The story of the First Crusade is connected deeply with the authority of Pope Urban Two (Asbridge, 2005). Religion is known to have been the driving force behind the first and even subsequent Crusades and has long been the main reason for the existing division between the West and the East, and this division was a driving force behind the foreign policy between the two sides (Mastnak, 2002).
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For centuries now, the topic of the Crusades, majorly the first Crusade, has received a lot of attention from academicians and historians both from the West and East (Asbridge, 2005). This paper will be a careful comparative analysis of both the Middle Eastern and the Western views of what happened during the first crusade. Mainly, the paper will explain the political, economic and religious motivations that created the energy for the Crusade.
The economic Reasons
There were a number of reasons that explain the occurrence of the first crusade. The Middle East had a lot of silk and had many spice trade routes that attracted the Crusaders (Asbridge, 2005). That is, after people who profess Islam had invaded core centres of trade, which included Persia, Syria as well as Egypt, the trade routes were blocked or were cut off. In addition, those goods that were allowed to pass through the blocked routes were charged highly in terms of taxes (Asbridge, 2005). To support this fact, attacks had been made by Muslims on Jerusalem soon after it had gained access to the seaport of Aqaba. This port was a direct link by the sea not just to India, but China as well.
In addition, by attacking parts of Asia and Africa that previously were dominated by Christians, Muslims had intentions to stop the thriving slave trade. Slave trade was highly practised by the Europeans, and its stoppage would have deprived some parts of southern Europe of their major sources of income (Asbridge, 2005). Practically, this aspect negatively affected the economy of not just southern Europe, but also of those countries that relied on the slave trade.
The origin of the First Crusade was in Western Europe (Kostick, 2008). However, according to scholars from the West, the First Crusade was provoked by the Easterners (Nicolle & Hook, 2001). Different from what is known, it was not inspired by Alexios one of the Byzantine Empire or Eastern Roman Empire and not Pope Urban two (Nicolle & Hook, 2001). The Eastern Roman Empire had survived the collapse of Rome, which was expanding in the eastern states (Asbridge, 2005).
It all started in the eleventh century when the Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire in Asia Minor, came under the territorial pressure from the Turks (Asbridge, 2005). At this point, the Turks were considered as masters of entire central Asia and the Middle East (Abels, 2009). The Turks allegedly attacked the Byzantine Empire. However, this story is still debatable as most written works from past scholars allege that relations between Muslim Turks and Christians in the Byzantine Empire were good (Mastnak, 2002).
At the beginning of the 1090s, however, the situation between the two religious divides changed radically (Nicolle & Hook, 2001). First, when the sultan of Baghdad passed on, a number of local Turks captured some part of the Byzantine Empire (Asbridge, 2005). The seized part was the most precious and sensitive territory, an aspect that risked the capital of the Byzantine Empire. As the pressure kept increasing, close friends of Alexios prevailed on him to seek help across Western Europe (Kostick, 2008). One of the persons, who offered to give assistance, was Pope Urban two, although on the condition that the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church would be united.
With this, what followed was more of a war to defend and protect the Holy Land instead of helping the Byzantine Empire to take back their land (Mastnak, 2002). Some of the cities that had been captured by the Turks included Antioch and Nicaea (Nicolle & Hook, 2001).
Historically, these were places where first Christians dwelt; they still carried the significance for Christianity at the time they were seized (Asbridge, 2005). When the Crusaders were sent to fight with the Turks, they were under the control of Alexios, not the Pope. They also swore allegiance to Alexios and promised that they would hand over all things, including cities captured (Frankopan, 2012).
However, they did not live up to their promise. They did not hand over what they had captured back to Alexios (Kostick, 2008). With this, Alexios lost control of his empire. What the Crusaders had conquered or captured included much of the eastern part of the Mediterranean, which also belonged to Alexios (Asbridge, 2005). With this, Alexios, together with his Byzantine Empire, was completely taken over by the Crusaders, whilst Pope Urban two remained intact. This is based on the fact that, although Crusaders swore allegiance to Alexios, they were highly inspired by the invigorating call by the leader of the Catholic church at Clermont (Kostick, 2008).
This event took place almost four or five years before the Crusaders embarked on a journey to recapture the Holy Land from Turks, who were Muslims. The process was not a peaceful one. As historians indicate, the recapture of the Jerusalem Temple was horrific, people walked almost to their knees through a stream of the blood of the unbelievers (Mastnak, 2002). Unbelievers, in this case, are the Muslim Turks. According to past historians, the conquest of the Crusaders had proved that God loved Western Europe and that Rome had authority over the earth.
From the views of both the West and East, it can be seen that the Crusade was inspired by both political and religious reasons. During this time, particularly in Western Europe, religion was highly respected, as it was an important part of the lives of people (Asbridge, 2005). It dictated what people should do and what they should not do. Religion was to be involved at any given point in human life from birth to death. The other thing is that fear was also preconceived in the religious system. This is based on the fact that the threat as well as fear of sin were a collective responsibility amongst the ancient believers. They believed that those who had sinned would only gain entry into heaven through purification of their souls.
On the contrary, those who failed to purify their souls would burn in eternal fires of hell when time comes. In other words, this collective obsession, ascribed to by all people, shaped all regulations, morality, customs and even laws (Mastnak, 2002).
Taking into consideration that most people at this time were illiterate, especially in Western Europe, religious art was actually used to show what would become of those who did not lead a righteous life, or would fail to live up to any religious call (Mastnak, 2002). With this, one way of purifying one’s sin was to die in the Lord. That is, those who died trying to recapture the Holy Land would automatically be absolved of their sins. It was for this reason that most Christians participated in the Crusade.
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In addition, the church had managed to reconcile the church sermons with the brutality of ancient conflict, by encouraging and promoting conflicts as a way of showing devotion to the religious call. Generally, people justified what they were engaging in with the preaching of the Church. The Church at that time recognized killing as long as it was done with the purpose of gaining spiritual sanctity or to promote the Cause of God.
The condition of the Byzantine Empire in the Middle Ages had deteriorated a lot. This was worsened further by the collapse of the Carolingian Empire and the relative stability of European boundaries. Many communities, such as the Magyar, Viking and Slav, had converted into Christianity. Therefore, this meant that what was left behind was a class of warriors whose main work was to fight all the time as well as terrorize the civilians who were mostly peasants. With this, the church had attempted to stem the violence, but only for some time, as trained militias always sought for some ways to initiate violence.
The first Crusade had some terrible impact on the Jewish and Muslims living in Middle East. For instance, during the First Crusade followers of the two religions (Jewish and Muslims) worked together in defense of major cities, such as Jerusalem and Antioch, from the Crusaders (Asbridge, 2005). In fact, it was for this reason that the Christians targeted both the Jewish and Muslims. According to the scholars from Middle East, it was a horrifying thing to see religious people who were armed to teeth approaching to attack other people (Mastnak, 2002). In fact, the people of Middle East saw these armed religious persons as aggravators and not as a big threat.
At the time of the attack, Muslims were dominating the world in terms of education, culture and even trade (Mastnak, 2002). Arabs traders were dominating international trade. Scholars from Middle East had managed to translate the discoveries from ancient Greece, such as Medicine, to invent highly advanced medical tools that were used to treat people (Nicolle & Hook, 2001). They had also managed to translate the discoveries from Asia to improve subjects such as astronomy. So, they were seen as people who were a threat to the West.
Europe was a region that had been badly damaged by wars, disagreements over supremacy, and shaped in ignorance and superstitious activities (Kostick, 2008). According to the Middle Eastern scholars, one of the main reasons that compelled the leader of the Roman Catholic Church to initiate the First Crusade was to divert the attention from endless fighting amongst European Christians and the best way was to create a common enemy for them all (Kostick, 2008). The enemy was the Muslims who were living in the land that was considered holly by Christians.
After the first Crusade, Christians from Europe initiated other Crusades, but they were not as successful or victorious as the First Crusade (Asbridge, 2005). In fact, what the Crusades were doing was just creating a new conqueror in Middle East: the sultan of Syria, who at later times recaptured Jerusalem from Christians (Mastnak, 2002). One notable thing about the sultan of Syria is that instead of killing Christians the way the Crusaders had done at the temple of Solomon, he just let them go unhurt.
In other words, he forgave what they had done to his fellow Muslims. In addition, the Crusade did not change much of the Middle East, but it was Europe that was changed by the Crusades (Kostick, 2008). The Crusaders took with them foreign products and commodities, initiating European demand for Asian and Arab commodities.
The Crusaders also managed to acquire new ideas such as scientific ideas, medical information, and an understanding about the backgrounds of other religions, such as Islam and Jewish religion (Mastnak, 2002). According to Middle East scholars, it is Middle East that helped in shaping their armies in preparation for a global invasion. In the end, it was the renewal and growth that ultimately generated a Crusader impact in the entire Islamic world (Mastnak, 2002).
How it has helped to mold the views of both sides
As scholars from Europe indicated, Europe had managed to force all Muslims into an inferior position. This is the point that sparked resentment in some Middle Eastern regions (Kostick, 2008). In the present day, the Crusades actually make up a major gripe for a good number of people in the Islamic world, particularly when it comes to relations with the West. It must be recognized that that attitude towards the West is not out of order (Mastnak, 2002). In any case, European Christians out of nothing but political and religious reasons launched unprovoked attacks on the Islamic world.
Following the terror attack on twin towers in New York, the president of the United States was quick to comment that the Crusade that had started would take a while to end. The use of the word “Crusade” opened wounds that have not healed for many years since the medieval era. The president had provoked the Islamic world and attracted the supporters from Europe. The president of United States decided to launch another Crusade, the war on Iraq.
The interesting thing is that Iraq had nothing to do with the terror attacks in the United States (Mastnak, 2002). Just like the previous unprovoked Crusades, this Crusade by the United States claimed the lives of innocent people in Middle East. It also served to continue the cycle of distrust that had previously developed between the Christian and Muslim worlds since the time the leader of the Roman Catholic Church called on Christians at Clermont in order to defend their holly land.
Many factors contributed to the declaration of the Crusade, some of these were political, economic and social. However, religion was the underlying factor. During the eleventh century, most people highly regarded religion, especially when doing any cause in the Lord’s name. It meant a lot to both Christians and Muslims. Reforms in Rome also had some impact on the first Crusade. That is, the regaining of papal fame under Pope Urban two. The church during this time had managed to find the way of reconciling the church sermons with the brutality of ancient conflict, by encouraging and promoting conflicts as a way of showing devotion to the religious call.
This created the unfounded fear that sinners would burn in eternal fire if they failed to absolve their sins through dedicating themselves to the call of the Lord. As it has been seen, there were various views on Crusades, depending on the side the views are emanating from. As for Westerners, it was the Turks who invited trouble by attacking the region which do not belong to them. They also hold that Christians were able to emerge victorious, because there were some divisions and weakness in the Islamic world or Middle East.
Abels, R. (2009). Timeline for the Crusades and Christian Holy War to c.1350. Web.
Asbridge, T. (2005). The First Crusade: A New History. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Press.
Frankopan, P. (2012). Go East, Young Knight. Web.
Kostick, C. (2008). The social structure of the First Crusade. Leiden, UK: Brill.
Mastnak, T. (2002). Crusading Peace: Christendom, the Muslim World, and Western Political Order. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press.
Nicolle, D., & Hook, C. (2001). Nicopolis 1196 : the Crusades. Oxford, UK: Osprey Military.