. Men never do evil so completely and
as when they do it from religious conviction.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Pensées
concept of a just or holy war is an ancient
one. The Jews used the concept, and it was probably from them
that Christians and Muslims adopted it. All three principal
monotheistic religions still accept the idea and continue to
use it. For Jews it is a kherem , for Muslims it is
a jihad, and for Christians a crusade.
The concept of a crusade was developed in the eleventh century
as a result of organised Christian forces fighting Muslims in
Sicily and Spain. The best known crusades were a series of military
expeditions promoted by the papacy during the Middle Ages, aimed
at taking the Holy Land for Christendom. The Holy Land had been
in the hands of the Muslims since 638, and it was against them
that the crusades were, at least nominally, directed. Desire
for adventure, conquest and plunder seems to have been at least
as influential in attracting Christians to the cause as any
desire to restore Christ's supposed patrimony.
Church regarded crusaders as military pilgrims. They took vows
and were rewarded with privileges of protection for their property
at home. Any legal proceedings against them were suspended.
Another major inducement was the offer of indulgences for the
remission of sin. Knights were especially attracted by what
were effectively Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free cards allowing them to
commit any sins throughout the rest of their lives without incurring
liability in this or the next world. During the Crusades the
Western Church developed new types of holy warrior. These were
military monks such as the Knights Hospitaller and Knights Templar.
They were literally both soldiers and monks, and took vows for
both callings, fulfilling their holy duties by killing God's
enemies. Originally they followed the rule of St Benedict.
Nine crusades are generally recognised, although there were
many others. Many of them collapsed before they got out of Christendom.
Some, such as the Children's Crusade, are now disowned as crusades.
Others were directed not against Muslims but fellow Christians
in Europe, the Church at Constantinople, Christian emperors
and kings, sects who rejected the Roman Church, even powerful
Italian families hostile to the pope of the day.
The First Crusade The First Crusade was planned
by Pope Urban II and more than 200 bishops at the Council of
Clermont. It was preached by Urban between 1095 and 1099. He
assured his listeners that God himself wanted them to encourage
men of all ranks, rich and poor, to go and exterminate Muslims.
He said that Christ commanded it. Even robbers, he said, should
now become soldiers of Christ*.
Assured that God wanted them to participate in a holy war, masses
pressed forward to take the crusaders' oath. They looked forward
to a guaranteed place in Heaven for themselves and to an assured
victory for their divinely endorsed army. In 1095, at the Council
of Clermont, at the very start of the First Crusade, Urban declared
that a war could be not only a bellum iustum (just war),
but could, in certain cases, be a bellum sacrum (holy
war). The pope did not appoint a secular military supreme commander,
only a spiritual one, the Bishop of Le Puy. Initial expeditions
were led by two churchmen, Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless.
Peter was a monk from Amiens, whose credentials were a letter
written by God and delivered to him by Jesus. He assured his
followers that death in the Crusades provided an automatic passport
Peter the Hermit leading the advance
party of the First Crusade
One German contingent in the Rhine valley was granted a further
sign from God. He sent them an enchanted goose to follow. It
led them to Jewish neighbourhoods of Spier, where they took
the divine hint and massacred the inhabitants. Similar massacres
followed at Worms, Mainz, Metz, Prague, Ratisbon and other cities.
These pogroms completed, Peter the Hermit's army marched through
Hungary towards Turkey. On the way they killed 4,000 Christians
in Zemun (present day Semlin), pillaged Belgrade, and set fire
to the towns around Niš. They thieved and murdered all
the way to Constantinople, by which time only about a third
of the initial force remained. The Emperor was astonished. He
had asked for trained mercenaries, but what arrived was a murderous
rabble. To minimise the risks of danger to his own city he allowed
the crusaders to proceed without entering the city. Once across
the Bosphorus, they continued as before. Marching beyond Nicæa,
a French contingent ravaged the countryside. They looted property,
and robbed, tortured, raped and murdered the mainly Christian
inhabitants of the country, reportedly roasting babies on spits*.
Some 6,000 German crusaders, including bishops and priests,
jealous of the French success, tried to emulate it. However,
this time an army of Turks arrived and chopped the holy crusaders
to pieces. Survivors were given the chance to save their lives
by converting to Islam, which some did, including their leader
Rainauld, setting a precedent for many future crusaders*.
The principal expedition that followed was more organised,
although crusaders continued to threaten their Christian allies
in Constantinople on the way. The Christian Emperor was shocked
to find his capital under attack by Western Christians in Holy
Week*. He developed a technique
for bringing the barbarian Westerners under control by speedily
processing batches of them as they arrived. His technique was
to induce them to swear fealty to him, then swiftly move them
across the Bosphorus before the next batch arrived. On the far
side of the water their massed forces were no threat to the
city. Apart from further devastating the countryside they could
do little but prepare for their first encounter with their non-Christian
were laid to a series of Muslim cities. Crusaders had little
respect for their enemies and enjoyed catapulting the severed
heads of fallen Moslem warriers into besieged cities. After
a victory near Antioch, crusaders brought severed heads back
to the besieged city. Hundreds of these heads were shot into
the city, and hundreds more impaled on stakes in front of the
city walls. A crusader bishop called it a joyful spectacle for
the people of God. When Muslims crept out of the city at night
to bury their dead the Christians left them alone. Then in the
morning the Christians returned, and dug up the corpses to steal
gold and silver ornaments*.
When the crusaders took Antioch in 1098 they slaughtered the
inhabitants. Later the Christians were in turn besieged by Muslim
reinforcements. The crusaders broke out, putting the Muslim
army to flight and capturing their women. The chronicler Fulcher
of Chartres was proud to record that on this occasion nothing
evil (i.e. sexual) had happened, although the women had been
murdered in their tents, pierced through the belly by lances.
Time and time again Muslims who surrendered were killed or sold
into slavery. This treatment was applied to combatants and citizens
alike: women, children, the old, the infirm anyone and
everyone. At Albara the population was totally extirpated, the
town then being resettled with Christians, and the mosque converted
into a church. Often, the Christians offered to spare those
who capitulated, but it was an unwise Muslim who accepted such
a promise. A popular technique was to promise protection to
all who took refuge in a particular building within the besieged
city. Then after the battle, the Christians had an easy time:
the men could be massacred and the women and children sold into
slavery without having to carry out searches. Clerics justified
this by claiming that Christians were not bound by promises
made to infidels, even if sworn in the name of God. At Maarat
an-Numan the pattern was repeated. The slaughter continued for
three days, both Christian and Muslim accounts agreeing on the
main points, although each has its own details. The Christian
account describes how the Muslims' bodies were dismembered.
Some were cut open to find hidden treasure, while others were
cut up to eat*. The Muslim
account mentions that over 100,000 were killed.
When the crusaders captured Jerusalem on the 14 th July 1099,
they massacred the inhabitants, Jews and Muslims alike, men,
women and children. The killing continued all night and into
the next day. Jews who took refuge in their synagogue were burned
alive. Muslims sought refuge in the al-Aqsa mosque under the
protection of a Christian banner. In the morning crusaders forced
an entry and massacred them all, 70,000 according to an Arab
historian, including a large number of scholars. As one churchman
But now that our men had possession of the walls and towers,
wonderful sights were to be seen. Some of our men (and this
was more merciful) cut off the heads of their enemies; others
shot them with arrows, so that they fell from the towers;
others tortured them longer by casting them into the flames.
Piles of heads, hands, and feet were to be seen in the streets
of the city. It was necessary to pick one's way over the bodies
of men and horses. But these were small matters compared to
what happened at the Temple of Solomon, a place where religious
services are ordinarily chanted. What happened there? If I
tell the truth, it will exceed your powers of belief. So let
it suffice to say this much, at least, that in the Temple
and porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees
and bridle reins. Indeed, it was a just and splendid judgment
of God that this place should be filled with the blood of
the unbelievers, since it had suffered so long from their
blasphemies. The city was filled with corpses and blood*.
Even before the killing was over the crusaders went to the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre "rejoicing and weeping for
joy" to thank God for his assistance.
Neither was this an isolated incident. It was wholly typical.
When the crusaders took Caesarea in 1101, many citizens fled
to the Great Mosque and begged the Christians for mercy. At
the end of the butchery the floor was a lake of blood. In the
whole city only a few girls and infants survived. Soon afterwards,
there was a similar massacre at Beirut. Such barbarity shocked
the Eastern world and left an impression of the Christian West
that has still not been forgotten in the third millennium.
By 1101 reinforcements were on the way, under the command of
the Archbishop of Milan, to support the Frankish crusaders already
in the Holy Land. Mainly Lombards, the new troops lived up to
the record of their French and German predecessors, robbing
and killing Christians on the way, and blaming the Byzantine
Emperor for the consequences of their own shortcomings. At the
first engagement with the enemy they fled in panic leaving their
women and children behind to be killed or sold in slave markets.
As Sir Steven Runciman, a leading historian of the period says:
the Byzantines were "shocked and angered by the stupidity,
the ingratitude and the dishonesty of the crusaders"*.
They also questioned the crusaders" loyalty to their Byzantine
allies. The crusaders had purportedly gone to help Byzantium,
and had sworn to restore to the Emperor any of his territory
that they recaptured, but not a single one ever did so.
Indeed, Eastern Christians were regarded as enemies as much
as the Muslims.
Fired by the success of the crusade against the Muslims, Pope
Paschal II (the successor to Urban II) gave his blessing in
1105 to a holy war against his fellow Christians in the East.
Preached by a papal legate, the new crusade sought to subjugate
the Eastern Empire to Rome. This was unprecedented treachery
and undisguised imperialism. For the time being such perfidy
got the crusaders nowhere.
The Second Crusade Pope Eugene III proclaimed
The Second Crusade in 1145. It was preached by St Bernard, a
leading Cistercian theologian who declared that "The Christian
glories in the death of a pagan, because thereby Christ himself
is glorified". He also pointed out that anyone who kills
an unbeliever does not commit homicide but malicide*;
in other words they kill not a man but an evil. In his Praise
Of The New Knighthood, wtitten before the second Crusade,
he wrote: "'The knight of Christ may strike with confidence
and die yet more confidently; for he serves Christ when he strikes,
and saves himself when he falls.... When he inflicts death,
it is to Christ's profit, and when he suffers death, it is his
own gain." He knew how to sell a crusade to believers.
His spiel was reminiscent of that of a high-pressure salesman
selling to credulous punters:
But to those of you who are merchants, men quick to seek
a bargain, let me point out the advantages of this great opportunity.
Do not miss them. Take up the sign of the cross and you will
find indulgence for all sins that you humbly confess. The
cost is small, the reward is great.... *
The Second Crusade was led by the greatest potentates in western
Europe: King Louis VII of France and the German Emperor Conrad
III. Once again churchmen promoted anti-Semitism in Germany
and France. Without the aid of a single enchanted goose the
crusaders once again found unbelievers in their midst. Inspired
by a Cistercian monk, they massacred Jews throughout the Rhineland
notably in Cologne, Mainz, Worms, Spier and Strasbourg.
The initial object of the Second Crusade was to recapture Edessa
(in what is now eastern Turkey), which had fallen to the Muslims
in 1144. Initial contingents were led by military commanders
like the bishops of Metz and Toul. On the way, travelling by
sea, the crusaders besieged Lisbon, which at that time was a
Muslim city. After four months the garrison surrendered, having
been promised their lives and their property if they capitulated.
They did capitulate and were then massacred. Only about a fifth
of the original crusader force got as far as Syria, where the
real crusade started. It proved a failure, at least partially
because tactical targets were selected for religious rather
than military reasons. A military tactician might have gone
for Aleppo, but the crusade leaders agreed on mounting an attack
on Damascus, apparently because they recognised its name as
biblical. The leaders argued amongst themselves until the crusade
collapsed in 1149, having failed to take either Edessa or Damascus.
The whole thing had been a disaster. As Runciman put it:
…when it reached its ignominious end in the weary
retreat from Damascus, all that it had achieved had been to
embitter relations between the Western Christians and the
Byzantines almost to breaking-point, to sow suspicions between
the newly-come Crusaders and the Franks resident in the East,
to separate the western Frankish princes from each other,
to draw the Muslims closer together, and to do deadly damage
to the reputation of the Franks for military prowess*.
The Muslim Turks extended their rule to Egypt soon afterwards.
St Bernard had been promised a victory by God, but instead of
this he had provided a complete disaster. Bernard and his supporters
tried hard to work out why God's purpose had been so badly frustrated.
Perhaps the best solution was that the outcome had been a great
success after all, because it had transferred so many Christian
warriors from God's earthly army to his heavenly one. Not everyone
was convinced. Meanwhile the Christian forces resident in the
East accommodated themselves to the realities of Eastern life.
Eventually they would come to terms with the fact that until
their arrival Muslims, Jews and Christians had lived together
in amity. Resident Christians often preferred their old Muslim
masters to their new Christian ones.
Muslim captives who chose to convert to Christianity rather
than die were allowed to, but only if there were no further
monetary complications. When Cairo offered 60,000 dinars to
the Templars for the return of a putative convert, his Christian
instruction was promptly suspended and he was sent in chains
to Cairo to be mutilated and hanged. Such incidents brought
little glory to either side, but it is fair to say that Muslim
princes generally conducted themselves with a degree of honour
and chivalry lacking amongst the Christians.
Jerusalem Retaken In 1187,
almost 90 years after it had been captured by the Christian
army of the First Crusade, Jerusalem was retaken by the Muslim
warrior Saladin (c.1137-1193). Originating from Tikrit in modern-day
Iraq, Saladin had first demonstrated his military prowess in
the 1160s in campaigns against crusaders in Palestine. Succeeding
his uncle as a vizier in Egypt, he conquered Egypt in 1175 and
then set about improving that country's economy and military
strength. Following further campaigns in Syria and Mesopotamia,
in 1186 he proclaimed a jihad that led to his capturing
Jerusalem for the Muslims in the following year.
addition to his abilities as a military leader, Saladin is renowned
for his chivalry and merciful nature. It is known, for example,
that in his struggles against the crusaders, he provided medical
assistance on the battlefield to the wounded of both sides,
and even allowed Christian physicians to visit Christian prisoners.
Once the battle to retake Jerusalem was over, no one was killed
or injured, and not a building was looted. The captives were
permitted to ransom themselves, and those who could afford to
do so ransomed their vassals as well. Many thousands could not
afford their ransom and were held to be sold as slaves. The
military monks, who could have used their vast wealth to save
their fellow Christians from slavery, declined to do so. The
head of the Church, the patriarch Heraclius, and his clerics
looked after themselves. The Muslims saw Heraclius pay his ten
dinars for his own ransom and leave the city bowed with the
weight of the gold that he was carrying, followed by carts laden
with other valuables. As the prisoners who had not been ransomed
were led off to a life of slavery, Saladin's brother Malik al-Adil
took pity. He asked his brother for 1,000 of them as a reward
for his services, and when he was granted them he immediately
gave them their liberty. This triggered further generosity amongst
the victorious commanders, culminating in Saladin offering gifts
from his own treasury to the Christian widows and orphans. As
a contemporary historian has remarked, "His mercy and kindness
were in strange contrast to the deeds of the Christian conquerors
of the First Crusade"*.
In contrast to the generally honourable behaviour of the Muslims,
the Christians repeatedly made promises under oath and them
reneged upon them, often with the encouragement of the priesthood.
In 1188 the King of Jerusalem, Guy, who had been captured by
Saladin, was released. Guy had solemnly sworn that he would
leave the country and never again take arms against the Muslims.
Immediately, a cleric was found to release him from his oath.
Despite this sort of behaviour, Muslim leaders generally stuck
to their own promises. They were rather bemused by the cynical
behaviour of the Western Christians. Often the cynicism worked
to the Muslims" advantage. For example, Saladin was pleasantly
surprised to find that Italian city states were prepared to
sell him high quality weapons to be used against crusaders.
When the Emperor in Constantinople heard of the Muslim victory,
he sent an embassy to congratulate its leaders. Eastern Christians
had already generally allied themselves with the Muslims, regarding
them as fairer and more civilised rulers than the followers
of the Church of Rome. Now they asked to stay in Jerusalem,
were allowed to do so, and gave "prodigious service"
to their new masters.
Third Crusade After the loss of Jerusalem, a Third
Crusade was preached by Pope Gregory VIII. It was jointly led
by Frederick Barbarossa, Philip of France, and Richard I of
England (The Lionheart). The Archbishop of Canterbury, Baldwin,
went along too. Richard had been crowned on 3 rd September in
1189 with crusading fervour already in the air. English Christians
emulated their continental co-religionists, and took to murdering
Jews, starting with those who had come to offer presents to
their new king. This sparked further persecutions throughout
the country, most notably in York. Soon the crusaders, including
those who had engaged in the murder of Jews, departed for the
East along with their continental co-religionists. Frederick
Barbarossa died on the way, an event that mystified the crusaders,
but which Muslims immediately recognised as a miracle wrought
by God for the one true faith. Philip and Richard squabbled
and attempted to bribe each other's armies to change allegiance
(three gold pieces per month for English knights who joined
Philip: four for French knights who joined Richard).
Eventually, Philip gave up and went home. Richard went on to
capture Acre in 1191. Saladin was unable to pay for the release
of the survivors quickly enough, so Richard ordered the massacre
of his 2,700 captives, many of them women and children. They
waited in line, each watching the one in front have their throat
slit. Wives were slaughtered at the side of their husbands,
children at the side of their parents while bishops blessed
the proceedings. Corpses were then cut open in the hope of finding
Richard found further success difficult to come by, and a truce
was made with Saladin, although Richard felt free to break it
when it suited him. Despite Richard's behaviour, Saladin continued
to treat him with respect when they met on the battlefield,
apparently because Richard's fighting prowess impressed him.
When Richard's horse fell, wounded in battle outside Jaffa in
August 1192, Saladin sent a groom through the mêlée
with fresh mounts for him. The Lionheart's treatment by his
Muslim enemy contrasted with his treatment by his own Christian
allies. On his way home later that year Richard was captured
and imprisoned by a fellow crusader, Leopold, Duke of Austria.
He was eventually released on payment of the Christian sum of
150,000 marks (£100,000), literally a king's ransom.
The Fourth Crusade The Fourth Crusade was
preached by Pope Innocent III and lasted from 1202 to 1204.
Although intended to regain the Holy Land from the Muslims by
way of Egypt, the crusade was hijacked by the Venetians and
directed against the Christian cities of Zara and then Constantinople,
which offered a softer target and richer pickings. Constantinople
was taken, the Emperor deposed, and Baldwin of Flanders was
set up in his place. The victorious crusaders amused themselves
in the usual way, even though this was the capital of Christendom.
As well as the standard bout of destruction, the men of the
cross desecrated imperial tombs, plundered churches, stole holy
relics, wrecked houses, vandalised libraries, destroyed whatever
loot they could not carry, raped nuns, and murdered at will.
They also set a prostitute on the patriarch's throne in Sancta
Sophia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, the greatest Church in
Christendom. Later a Latin (i.e. Roman Catholic) patriarch was
installed, and the Venetians shipped off the remaining treasures
to their own city, where some of them remain to this day. We
have sympathetic accounts of these events, including one of
an Abbot threatening to kill an Orthodox priest if he did not
hand over a stash of “powerful” relics*.
The Eastern Churches still harbour bitter resentment about the
behaviour of Western Christians during this time. Here is a
modern Orthodox bishop on the subject:
Eastern Christendom has never forgotten those three appalling
days of pillage. "Even the Saracens are merciful and
kind," protested Nicetas Choniates [a contemporary historian],
"compared with these men who bear the Cross of Christ
on their shoulders". What shocked the Greeks more than
anything was the wanton and systematic sacrilege of the Crusaders.
How could men who had specially dedicated themselves to God's
service treat the things of God in such a way? As the Byzantines
watched the Crusaders tear to pieces the altar and icon screen
in the Church of the Holy Wisdom, and set prostitutes on the
Patriarch's throne, they must have felt that those who did
such things were not Christians in the same sense as themselves*.
The Western Church saw nothing wrong with its conduct. It is
true that the Pope was initially irritated by the crusade having
been diverted to attack Zara. But His Holiness was soon reconciled
by a victory in his name over the Emperor, and any pretence
that the crusade was ever intended to fight the infidel was
abandoned. A papal legate, Peter of Saint-Marcel, issued a decree
absolving the crusaders from having to proceed further to fight
the Muslims. The new Emperor in Constantinople, Baldwin, wrote
to the Pope about the sack of the city as "a miracle that
God had wrought". The Pope rejoiced in the Lord and gave
his approval without reserve*.
Modern historians tend to take a different view. As Sir Steven
Runciman put it "There was never a greater crime against
humanity than the Fourth Crusade"*.
The Cathar wars or Albigensian Crusade
In 1208 Pope Innocent III launched crusades against the Cathars
in southern France, and in 1211 against Muslims in Spain, but
it was difficult to raise interest in expeditions to the more
distant and dangerous Holy Land.
More on the persecution
of the Cathars >
The Children's Crusade
The year 1212 saw the so-called Children's Crusade. This crusade
was preached by a French shepherd boy aged around 12, inspired
by a vision of Christ. Christ gave him a letter for the King
of France, and despite the King's indifference, the boy succeeded
in rousing 30,000 recruits, none over the age of 12. The crusader
children were blessed by priests and marched off to Marseilles.
The idea was that God would protect them and supply them with
suitable fighting skills. He would even part the sea so that
they could walk from Marseilles to the Holy Land. But God declined
to perform his promised miracle at Marseilles. Instead two men,
monks according to one tradition, Hugh the Iron and William
the Pig according to another, offered the children ships free
of charge to take them to their destination. Most accepted,
embarked, and were promptly sold as slaves to African Muslims.
This was not an isolated incident. Roman Catholic traders were
engaged in an established commerce involving the sale of young
boys to Muslim rulers*.
Some 40,000 German children also set out on the crusade, but
God declined to perform his promised miracle for them either.
How many ever arrived to fight, if any at all, is not known.
Few ever returned home.
Meanwhile in the Holy Land the resident Christians were becoming
ever more accustomed to Eastern life. They wore robes and turbans,
ate Eastern food, married Eastern women and learned Eastern
medicine. Alliances were made between powerful rulers, often
irrespective of religion. Christians accepted Muslims as their
feudal Lords and Muslims accepted Christians as theirs.
The Fifth Crusade This crusade was preached
by Pope Innocent III but undertaken in the reign of Pope Honorius
III. It was led by Cardinal Pelagius of Lucia and lasted from
1217 to 1221. Although ultimately intended to recover Jerusalem,
the main force was initially directed against Egypt. Damietta
(a Mediterranean port on the Nile delta) was besieged. Saladin
proposed a deal. He would cede Jerusalem, all central Palestine,
and Galilee if the crusaders would spare Damietta. Pelagius
rejected this offer, against military advice.
Damietta duly fell to the Christians. The surviving inhabitants
were sold into slavery, and their children handed over to the
Christian priests to be baptised and trained into the service
of the Church. But Saladin soon recovered Damietta by force.
The Christian campaign had been another failure, undermined
by a combination of personal and national jealousies along with
the lack of strategic insight on the part of Cardinal Pelagius,
a man who has been described as "an ignorant and obstinate
fanatic". As the defeated Christians sailed off, stories
of their atrocities triggered a wave of persecution of Christians
communities in Egypt, which until then had happily coexisted
with their Muslim masters for centuries.
The Sixth Crusade The Sixth Crusade was proposed
by Pope Gregory IX, but found few takers, previous crusades
having proved such failures. The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick
II organised his own crusade while under sentence of excommunication,
and pursued it between 1222 and 1229. Despite the Pope's machinations
and much to his embarrassment Frederick's military and strategic
skill led to a negotiated settlement under which Nazareth, Bethlehem,
and Jerusalem came under Christian control. On his return to
Europe the victorious Frederick crushed the papal forces that
had been sent to destroy him, and the Pope had no choice but
to lift the sentence of excommunication.
The Seventh Crusade The Seventh Crusade lasted
from 1248 to 1254. It was initiated under Pope Innocent IV,
Jerusalem having been lost to the Muslims again in 1244. It
was led by King Louis IX of France ( St Louis) who started by
attacking Egypt. Once again Damietta was captured, and once
again the Sultan offered to exchange it for Jerusalem. Once
again the offer was rejected, and once again the Muslims won
Damietta back by force of arms. Louis himself was captured and
had to be ransomed for 400,000 bezants (gold coins). After his
release he went to the Holy Land but failed to recover the holy
cities, and so gave up and went home.
Innocent's successor, Pope Alexander IV, tried to organise
yet another crusade, this time against the Mongols, but he was
unsuccessful. Had he had a better grasp of strategy he might
instead have allied Western Christendom with the Asian powers.
Nestorian Christianity was still influential in Asia, and the
Mongols might easily have become allies, some of their leaders
having already been baptised. Western and Eastern forces combined
could have overcome the forces of Islam. In 1254 the Great Khan
Mongka, whose mother had been a Nestorian Christian, had offered
to recover Jerusalem for the Christians, if they would co-operate.
But European Christians were unwilling to co-operate with each
other, much less a remote and unknown semi-heathen whose mother
had been a heretic. In time the victorious Mongols would themselves
convert to Islam and spread their new religion throughout Asia,
eclipsing Christianity from the Levant to the Far East.
The Eighth Crusade The Eighth Crusade was
proposed by Pope Gregory X, but not organised until a later
reign. It lasted only from 1270 to 1271, and was initially led
once again by St Louis. An English contingent was made up largely
of men who needed to hold on to lands they had taken by force
in the baronial wars of the 1260s. By joining a crusade they
were assured of the protection of the Church, and thus able
to keep their newly acquired property. The project was another
failure. It collapsed after Louis died of disease while attacking
Carthage (modern Tunis).
The Ninth Crusade The Ninth Crusade continued
St Louis's Eighth Crusade. It was led by Prince Edward, the
future English King Edward I, between 1271 and 1272. Edward
reached the Holy Land and was mystified by what he found. The
Venetians were supplying the Sultan with all the timber and
metal he needed to manufacture his armaments, while the Genoese
controlled the Egyptian slave trade. Like Edward, new arrivals
were generally surprised by the realities of life in the East.
Italian city states jostled with each other for trade with Christians
and Muslims without distinction. Senior churchmen paralysed
strategic military initiatives. Noble families argued and betrayed
each other without compunction. So did the representatives of
European nation states, jealous of each other's favour or success.
Members of the Eastern and Western Churches bickered continuously.
Military Orders squabbled with each other and subverted military
expeditions when they threatened their own commercial interests.
The Knights Templar created the first true multinational banking
corporation serving Christians and Muslims alike, while Muslim
Assassins continued to pay homage to the Hospitallers. Native
Christians resented their supposed saviours from the West, and
would have preferred life under Byzantine or Muslim rulers.
Edward got nowhere in such a milieu, so alien to his preconceptions.
Like earlier crusades, this one fizzled out, a total failure.
Civil wars in the remaining Christian territories in the East
hastened the end of the crusading period in the Holy Land. Christian
princes burned each other's castles and besieged each other
in their strongholds. Western Christians were regarded as barbarians
by almost everyone. They were likely to kill anyone on a whim,
whether Muslim, Jew or Christian. In 1290 newly arrived Italian
crusaders went on a Muslim-killing spree in Acre, but since
they assumed that any man with a beard was a Muslim, they murdered
many Christians as well. The Italians seem to have been even
worse than most of their fellow crusaders:
…the Italians, with their arrogance, their rivalries
and the cynicism of their policy, caused irremediable harm.
They would hold aloof from vital campaigns and openly parade
the disunity of Christendom. They supplied the Muslims with
essential war-material. They would riot and fight each other
in the streets of the cities*.
Further Crusades In 1297 Pope Boniface VIII
preached a crusade against the Colonnas, a powerful Italian
family that regarded the papacy almost as its hereditary possession,
and that felt free to take papal treasure at will, even when
the papacy was temporarily out of its control. The crusade was
announced, complete with indulgences, but Colonna forces captured
the Pope. Although he was rescued, he died a month later, a
broken man. New crusades against the Turks were proposed by
a number of fourteenth century popes, but they never got started.
Benedict XII , Innocent VI , Urban V and Gregory XI all proposed
them, and Urban even got as far as proclaiming his in 1363,
but nothing ever came of it.
King Peter I of Cyprus organised his own crusade, which attacked
and took Alexandria in 1365. The subsequent massacres followed
traditional lines of Jerusalem in 1099 and Constantinople in
1204. Crusaders massacred native Christians indiscriminately
along with Jews and Muslims. Some 5,000 survivors, representing
all three religions, were sold into slavery. European triumphalism
over this victory soon waned. Muslim bitterness was revived,
Venetian merchants were almost ruined, the spice and silk trades
dried up, pilgrims" access to the Holy Land was imperilled,
and native Eastern Christians were persecuted once more. Christendom
became alarmed at what might happen next. Providentially, Peter
was assassinated in 1369, and a peace treaty was signed the
In the fifteenth century, Pope Martin V organised an unsuccessful
crusade against the Hussites, a Christian sect in Bohemia. Pope
Eugene IV tried to organise another crusade to recover the Holy
Land, but it was a failure. A few years later Cardinal Cesarini
persuaded the King of Hungary to support another crusade against
the Turks. A ten-year truce was in place, but the Cardinal gave
assurances that an oath sworn to a Muslim was invalid. Battle
was joined at Varni in Bulgaria, in 1444, where the Christian
forces were roundly defeated, leaving Cardinal Cesarini amongst
the dead. The annihilation opened up central Europe to the Muslims
and further weakened Constantinople.
In 1453 the Turks finally sacked Constantinople, news of which
terrified European leaders. Pope Nicholas V tried to organise
a crusade to recover the city, but it was yet another failure.
Pope Callistus III did manage to organise one, funded by the
sale of indulgences, but it was diverted and finished up attacking
Genoa. Pope Pius II was so keen to revive the Crusades that
he went himself, but hardly anyone else could be coerced into
going with him. He waited near the coast at Ancona in the summer
of 1464, hoping for others to turn up. His attendants concealed
the fact that no supporting armies were on the way, and drew
the curtains of his litter so that he should not see the desertions
from his own fleet. When a few Venetian galleys hove into sight
His Holiness died, apparently of excitement, and the crusade
was promptly abandoned.
When Columbus sailed to the americas in 1492 he wrote to their
Catholic Majesties, Ferdinand and Isabella, "I propose
to your Majesties that all the profit derived from this enterprise
be used for the recovery of Jerusalem". Crusades were still
regarded as desirable and possible. Their Catholic Majesties'
grandson, the Emperor Charles V, also talked of Crusades - he
was after all the titular King of Jerusalem - and his crusader
talk was taken seriously enough for Suleiman to rebuild the
walls of Jerusalem. Over the next three centuries, further attempts
were made at organising a crusade, but nothing came of them.
The object of the crusades had been to save Eastern Christendom
from the Muslims. They were undertaken with God's encouragement,
support and promise of victory. When they ended they had proved
a disastrous failure. The whole of Eastern Christendom was under
Muslim rule. The Crusades, especially the later ones, had been
characterised by partisan self-interest, short-sighted pettiness,
internal squabbles, strategic mismanagement, poor military leadership,
bigotry, barbarism, corruption and dishonour. The implications
were wide-ranging. The popes had succeeded in ruining the emperors
of both East and West, while strengthening and unifying disparate
Muslim enemies. The greatest Church in Christendom, Sancta Sophia,
was now a mosque. Many Eastern Churches, which had always enjoyed
toleration under Muslim rulers, now suffered persecution and
decline. The schism between East and West, which might have
been healed by allies in war, was instead made permanent. Asia
was lost to Christianity and was soon to convert wholesale to
Islam. The balance of world power had shifted irrevocably. The
death toll of these expeditions will never be known accurately
for either side, but it is certain that it numbered hundreds
of thousands, and possibly millions. Most of the dead were Christians.
In fact Christian forces themselves may have killed as many
Christians and Jews as they did Muslims.
Both sides fought fiercely, not to say barbarously. Christian
virtues such as mercy and cheek-turning had been almost totally
absent throughout, at least on the Christian side. At the end
of it all nothing positive had been achieved. Before the crusades,
Muslims had established a great reputation for tolerance. Now
that they had suffered Christian atrocities and perfidy, they
had become fanatical in defence of their religion. As Runciman
wrote of the slaughter at Jerusalem during the First Crusade:
"It was this bloodthirsty proof of Christian fanaticism
that recreated the fanaticism of Islam"*.
Muslim respect for Eastern Christians was superseded by hatred
and contempt for Western ones.
The bitterness that was generated between the Christian West
and the Muslim Levant was so great that its effects rumbled
down the centuries and echo to the present day. Across many
Eastern countries the word for a western foreigner is ferenghi,
a corruption of Frank, and an echo of the fact that crusaders
were usually referred to as Franks in the Middle Ages
but this is far from the most serious reverberation from the
Western Churchmen kept the crusader ideal alive. In the early
ninteenth century François-René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand
was inducted into the Order of the Holy sepulchre by Franciscans
in the sepulchre itself- knighting him with the first crusader
King of Jerusalem's sword.
Later In the nineteenth century the Crimean War was triggered
by Holy Russia declaring itself protector of Christians in Ottoman
lands. Czar Nicholas I saw himself "waging war for a solely
Christian purpose, under the banner of the Holy Cross".
He thought of the Christian God as the "Russian God"
and Russia as the successor of Constantinople. Moscow even called
itself the Third Rome, i.e. the third capital of the Empire.
Among others the new Rome sought to protect the Armenians, the
victims (as well as the perpetrators) of numerous atrocities
over the centuries. In 1915 Christian Armenians rebelled against
the Turks and massacred Muslims. At Van alone they were reported
to have killed 30,000. Over the next five years, hundreds of
thousands died. According to some the victims were mainly Christians,
according to others they were mainly Muslim. Such killing has
continued into recent times. In 1988 Christians and Muslims
started killing each other again, this time over the enclave
of Ngorno Karabakh in Azerbaijan.
When General Allenby took Jerusalem in 1917 he was careful
not to offend Christians by riding his horse into the city,
but he ws not as careful about Moslem sensitivities. When he
ceremonially accepted the keys to the city he is supposed to
have said "The Crusades have now ended", at which
the Mayor and Mufti stalked off. He went on to accept the keys
to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from their Muslim custodians
giving them back with the words "Now the Crusades have
ended, I return to you the keys but these are not from Omar
or Saladin but from Allenby"*.
American millenarians also saw the taking of Jerusalem as the
triumph of the last Crusade. Many in the Middle East are familiar
with the story of the French General Henri Gouraud. After marching
into Damascus in July 1920 he is reported to have kicked Saladin's
tomb and said: "The Crusades have ended now! Awake Saladin,
we have returned! My presence here consecrates the victory of
the Cross over the Crescent.".
General Pershing's Crusaders in the 20th
Century shown on a US Government poster.
Note the ghostly medieval Crusader army riding alongside
Pershing's modern Crusader army
Many Muslims regarded the Anglo-French Suez expedition of 1956
as another attempted repeat of crusader victories of 1199. The
Palestine Liberation Organisation regards Israel as the West's
new crusader State.
American soldiers represented as Crusaders,
urged on by an angelic figure representing the USA, crucified
under the benign gaze of a Jesus
Christian-Muslim killing was not over. In the 1980s and 90s
Christian-Muslim fighting broke out in Africa, notably in Nigeria,
Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. It happened in Europe as well
in Bosnia and Kosovo. Christian forces were also heavily involved
in the civil war in the Lebanon. Arguably, the most brutal incident
during the whole war was perpetrated by Christians against Muslim
refugees. In 1982 hundreds of men, women and children were massacred
by Christian troops in the refugee camps in Sabra and Chatila.
It was like the original crusades all over again, except with
machine guns. Maronite Christians, who are in communion with
Rome, still emulate the behaviour of their crusader forbears.
When General Michel Aoun launched a Christian offensive in March
1989 against Syrians in the Lebanon, he explicitly called it
a "crusade". Some Muslim fighters in the Lebanon call
themselves Salabeyen after Saladin's men who fought
There are many other echoes of the Crusades louder in
the East than in the West. Two of the PLO's divisions are named
after the sites of Muslim victories over the Christian crusaders
(Hattin and Ayn Julat). Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot Pope John
Paul II in 1981, described his victim in a letter as the "supreme
commander of the Crusades"*.
During the Gulf war of 1991, Saddam Hussein was guaranteed massive
public support in many Muslim countries by likening the Western
offensive to a Christian crusade, and implicitly likening himself
to Saladin - that other famous native of Tikrit.
Following terrorist actions against the USA in 2001, President
George W. Bush characterised America's response by remarking
that "this crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take
a while" thus opening up the whole issue of the
crusades again. Although the reference passed almost unnoticed
among Americans, it sounded to many Muslims like a call for
a holy war against Islam. In 2010 it was revealed that the US
were using gun sights produced by Trijicon Inc, a Michigan arms
company. These sights were stamped with biblical references
and widely used in Iraq and Afghanistan. The practice had been
started by the firm's founder, a devout Christian*.
Most people in countries such as the USA and UK are still unaware
of how sensitive the whole issue still is in the Muslim world.
Not so in Spain, where it is widely known that the train bombings
of 2004 were carried out in retribution for Spain's part in
the war in Iraq as well as the reconquista the fifteenth
century Christian crusade against the moors of Iberia.
A large number of Christians on social
media see themselves as warriors for Christ.
The crusaders' cross is still remembered by Muslims and it
is for this reason that any symbol in the form of a red cross
is not acceptable in Muslim countries, even if it has no connection
with the crusaders' cross. The organisation generally known
in the west as the Red Cross is to Muslims known as the Red
Crescent. Nor is this the only symbolic reminder: Western swords
are still made in the shape of a cross, just as scimitars are
still made in the shape of a crescent.
More Christian Violence and Warfare