6 Nov 2013

The Crusades


The Crusades were religious conflicts during the High Middle Ages through the end of the Late Middle Ages, conducted under the sanction of the Latin Catholic Church. 
Pope Urban II proclaimed the first crusade in 1095 with the stated goal of restoring Christian access to the holy places in and near Jerusalem. There followed a further six 
major Crusades against Muslim territories in the east, and numerous minor ones as part of an intermittent 200-year struggle for control of the Holy Land that ended in failure. 
After the fall of Acre, the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land, in 1291, Catholic Europe mounted no further coherent response in the east. Many historians and 
medieval contemporaries, such as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, give equal precedence to comparable, Papal-blessed military campaigns against pagans, heretics, and people 
under the ban of excommunication, undertaken for a variety of religious, economic, and political reasons, such as the Albigensian Crusade, the Aragonese Crusade, the 
Reconquista, and the Northern Crusades. While some historians see the Crusades as part of a purely defensive war against the expansion of Islam in the near east, many 
see them as part of long-running conflicts at the frontiers of Europe, including the Arab–Byzantine Wars, the Byzantine–Seljuq Wars, and loss of Anatolia by the Byzantines 
after their defeat by the Seljuk Turks at the Battle of Manziert in 1071. Urban II sought to reunite the Christian church under his leadership by providing Emperor Alexios I 
with military support. Several hundred thousand soldiers became Crusaders by taking vows and receiving plenary indulgences.These crusaders were Christians from all over 
Western Europe under feudal rather than unified command, and the politics were often complicated to the point of intra-faith competition leading to alliances between 
combatants of different faiths against their coreligionists, such as the Christian alliance with the Islamic Sultanate of Rûm during the Fifth Crusade. The impact of the 
Crusades was profound. Jonathan Riley-Smith identifies The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Crusader States as the first experiments in “Europe Overseas”. These reopened 
the Mediterranean to trade and travel, enabling Genoa and Venice to flourish. The collective identity of the Latin Church was consolidated under the Pope’s leadership. The 
Crusades were the source of heroism, chivalry, and medieval piety that spawned medieval romance, philosophy, and literature. However, they reinforced the nexus between 
Western Christendom, feudalism, and militarism that ran counter to the Peace and Truce of God that Urban had promoted. The chance of ending the East–West Schism 
and reuniting the church was ended by the conflict between the Latin Crusaders and the Orthodox Christians, leading to the ultimate weakening and fall of the Byzantine 
Empire to the Ottomans. The conduct of the Crusaders was shocking not only to modern sensibilities but also to contemporaries such as Bernard of Clairvaux. They pillaged 
the countries in transit, including the massacre of 8,000 Jews in the Rhineland in the first of Europe's pogroms, sacked Constantinople, slaughtered a purported 70,000 
citizens in the fall of Jerusalem, and the nobles carved up the territory gained rather than return it to the Byzantines, as they had vowed to do. The majority of crusaders, 
however, were the poor trying to escape the hardships of medieval life in an armed pilgrimage leading to Apotheosis at Jerusalem. During the Reformation and 
Counter-Reformation of the 16th century, historians saw the Crusades through the prism of their own religious beliefs. Protestants saw them as a manifestation of the evils of 
the papacy, while Catholics viewed the movement as a force for good. During the Enlightenment, historians tended to view both the Crusades and the entire Middle Ages as 
the efforts of barbarian cultures driven by fanaticism. By the 19th century, with the dawning of Romanticism, this harsh view of the Crusades and its time period was 
mitigated somewhat, with later 19th-century crusade scholarship focusing on increasing specialization of study and more detailed works on subjects. Enlightenment 
scholars in the 18th century and modern historians in the West have expressed moral outrage at the conduct of the crusaders. In the 1950s, Sir Steven Runciman wrote that 
"High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed ... the Holy War was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God".

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