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Researching the First Crusade: What Were the Real Intentions? Essay

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Updated: Jun 21st, 2022

Introduction

Despite the Francs’ efforts to justify their violent actions in Jerusalem and the surrounding territories by an exalted desire to free the land of Christ from ungodly people and traitors, the First Crusade was a mere war of aggression. For all intents and purposes, the western warriors attempted to enrich themselves and increase their political weight in the world. The following paper will observe four historical accounts describing the events of those days to prove crusaders’ hypocrisy and uncover their real intentions in the First Crusade.

Different Views of the First Crusade

The four documents of the class readings present a reverse vision of the First Crusade events. The document “O God, Insolent Men” by Rabbi Eliezer b. Nathan demonstrates the position of Jews who were seeking to protect their land against Catholic invaders. They believed it was better to suffer martyrdom than to capitulate in the face of the enemy. Rabbi Eliezer b. Nathan states that crusaders behaved violently against the defenceless people of the land including children, women, and the elderly. According to the document, “they piled together infants and women, young and old” (Rabbi Eliezer b. Nathan 288).

The Jews call the invaders “the evildoers” and blame them for their extreme cruelty and inhumanity. The following quotation from the document under consideration demonstrates the attitude of the Hebrews to the crusaders, “give them, O Lord, what their evil deeds deserve. Give them broken hearts, let Your curse be upon them” (Rabbi Eliezer b. Nathan 289).

Next, “The Alexiad” by Anna Comnena, the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenu, reports about the author’s view of the arriving crusaders. In this document, Anna Comnena tells about her father’s heroism enabling him to save the Byzantine land from the deleterious stay of the crusaders. The author praises Emperor Alexius for his wisdom and shrewdness which he utilized to convince the warriors to leave the Byzantine territory.

In addition, Anna Comnena explains the real motivation behind the actions of the majority of crusaders by stating that they saved “their old grudge against Alexius and sought a good opportunity to avenge the glorious victory which the emperor had won at Larissa” (290). Their other intention was to fight over control of Constantinople as can be seen from the following phrase in the document, “they were all of one mind, and in order to fulfill their dream of taking Constantinople, they adopted a common policy” (Anna Comnena 290).

In the letter to his wife, Count Stephen of Blois tells about the situation in the war against Muslims. The letter is remarkable for the abundance of false claims, exaggerations, and bravado. Stephen of Blois boasts about his leading position in the army and personal achievements in combating the foes of Christ. This letter is a good illustration showing how western warriors saw their mission in Jerusalem. For them, it was an adventure and an opportunity to realize their military potential obtained as a result of a wide experience of conflict participation.

The following quotation from the letter demonstrates the way the author exaggerates on the army achievements and the way he justifies military aggression by religious zeal and loyalty to Christ, “and already at that time, together with all the chosen army of Christ, endowed with great valor by him, we had been continuously advancing for twenty-three weeks toward the home of our Lord Jesus” (Stephen of Blois 294).

Finally, the document “The First Crusade” by Ibn al-Athir renders the Muslims’ response to the actions of the enemy. Contrary to Stephen’s of Blois’s position, this document condemns crusaders in ungodly behavior. Particularly, the document states Muslims act being motivated by their faith while the Franks are cruel murderers battling with innocent people incited by their greed. The following statement from Ibn al-Athir’s account provides more insight on the matter, “I see my people slow to raise the lance against the enemy: I see the Faith resting on feeble pillars” (300).

Grounds for Differences

Conflict of interests accounts for the differences in the given documents. Besides, varying assessment of the events of the Crusade in the given accounts is explained by the consequences of the war for different participants. In this vein, the first account “O God, Insolent Men” written by the person who experienced the deeply negative impact of the Crusade is understandably extremely unfavorable. In this document, crusades appear as cruel invaders who came to capture lands out of their personal greed and enrichment ambitions. Rabbi Eliezer b. Nathan depicts the western warriors as ungodly evildoers deserving god’s punishment.

This evaluation is highly different from the crusaders’ point of view who positioned themselves as soldiers of Christ. A similar tendency is observed in the document “The First Crusade” by Ibn al-Athir. The grounds for this analogy are the casualties that the Muslims appeared to have in the war. Interestingly, the Jews and the Muslims being the eternal enemies, have a common position regarding crusaders. The reason for this congruence is the fact that both nations became the victims of the crusaders’ greed for gain. Anna Comnena’s account of the First Crusade echoes the documents completed by the Hebrews and the Arabs.

This resemblance has similar grounds since the Byzantines saw the Francs as aggressors seeking a reason to initiate the war with their empire. Finally, the account by Stephen of Blois is completely different from the rest of the documents on the score of the author’s personal aims and ambitions. In this document, the Count aims to brag to his wife as well as excuse his aggressive actions by religious zeal.

The veracity of the Accounts

Accounts by Rabbi Eliezer b. Nathan, Ibn al-Athir, and Anna Comnena seem to be more or less trustworthy because these documents reflect different values of their authors. The above-mentioned personalities were motivated by the desire to protect their land from the aggressive invaders. In contrast, the letter by Stephen of Blois demonstrated the author’s intention to excuse his actions. Moreover, authorised historians prove that the western warriors were nothing more than avaricious invaders who wanted to justify their crimes by their faith in Christ (Asbridge 15).

Conclusion

Reflecting on the above-mentioned, the given documents reveal the differences in the way of thinking of the First Crusade participants. While crusaders aimed to present their conquest as a holy war against Christ’s foes, their victims reported ungodly behaviour and cruelty of the invaders. The accounts by Rabbi Eliezer b. Nathan, Ibn al-Athir, and Anna Comnena, all highlight belligerent and truculent character of crusaders’ actions, while the document by Stephen of Blois depicts crusaders as courageous and noble warriors of god who came to liberate the lands of Christ.

Works Cited

Asbridge, Thomas. The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land. New York: Ecco Press, 2011. Print.

Ibn al-Athir. “The First Crusade”. Class reading (13th c.), 295-300. Print.

Rabbi Eliezer b. Nathan. “O God, Insolent Men”. Class reading (early-to-mid-12th c.), 286-289. Print.

Stephen of Blois. “A Westerner in the Holy Land”. Class reading (1098), 293-295. Print.

Anna Comnena. “The Alexiad”. Class reading (c.1148), 290-293. Print.

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