The history of crusades is complex and hard to evaluate. Although there is much literature on the topic, different pieces of evidence provide facts that are sometimes contradictory. The reasons for the crusades were reviewed over time, and the modern approach offers an opinion that they had mostly the spiritual function rather than the purpose of obtaining wealth. Various documentaries reveal the changing perspective on the topic.
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The Crusades: A Timewatch Guide documentary by Edward Hart, though being a representative collection of the XX century films about the crusades, lacks some crucial elements, which characterize that period. For instance, nothing is said about the amount of Muslims living in Southern Europe at that time. The interesting fact is that Spanish was quite used to Muslims living in their southern territories and thus did not favor their slaughter as much as French did. This cultural mixture is neglected in Hart’s film, although it does mention the peaceful co-existence of nations in Jerusalem.
Due to the changed realities of the modern world, the images of the crusades’ savagery and manslaughter are persistent. Various European shreds of evidence show that the knights were incredibly cruel towards their enemies, even to the extent of cannibalism. All of the non-Christians suffered from their deeds, including women and children. However, the Muslim records do not seem to have these facts captured, or at least they do not possess such vivid imagery. This gives historians a reason to believe that the European records were exaggerated on purpose to underline the devotion, with which the crusaders had fought in the name of God, as it is mentioned in Hart’s documentary. Nevertheless, the ideas of knights ruthlessly killing civilians seem harsh in the nowadays realities.
The film’s message is similar to the historical viewpoint presented in scholarly books. It relies heavily on the idea that the primary purpose of the crusades was, indeed, spiritual. Knights really believed that they waged a holy war and would be granted a place in heaven for their service. It was not hard to fall under the pressure of propaganda coming from the Church that Christians were being killed by Muslims in foreign countries. The film also mentions the concept of pilgrimage, which, according to Jotischky and Hull, was combined with a fight, and thus created a unique face of a holy war.
However, the documentary does not agree with the scholarly representations of the crusades as a way of gaining wealth. The film argues that the religious wars were waged by landlords who did not experience a lack of property and finances, thus wealth could not be their reasoning. Nevertheless, Andrew Jotischky provides the evidence in his book that crusaders believed their sacrifice had to be rewarded not only by God. Moreover, the book mentions the laws of Latin Europe, by which only the eldest son in a family inherited all the lands. Thus, the crusade campaign could be the only chance for the younger ones to improve their financial situation.
There has been a changing trend in understanding the crusades over the past 60 years, shifting from the ideas of colonialism to the concepts of genuine spiritual reasoning. The documentaries of the past used to link the crusades to the colonial politics of the USA in Vietnam. They implied that the main purpose of those holy wars had been the expansion and the spread of the pope’s influence, just like it was with America trying to strengthen its positions in Asia.
However, today this reasoning does not sound adequate, as more and more historians come to the idea that the crusaders were genuinely interested in serving God. Various facts of hardships experienced by the knights on their way to Jerusalem only prove this point.
After the events of 9/11 in the US, George W. Bush announced a war against terrorism and called it to be a crusade. It was not the correct term to use for a series of reasons. One of them lies in the fact that Latin Europe had not experienced any major attacks from Muslims. In fact, people of both religions had managed to live peacefully with each other. While linking terrorism to Jihad, which is a concept of Islam, is a reasonable thought, there should not be any confusion with the US campaign in Iraq. Americans were defending themselves from the attacks, but they did not promote Christianity in the enemies’ countries.
The popular culture offers the image of brave knights fighting the holy war for their beliefs, which seems to be accurate as compared to the historical evidence. Although media often overlooks the chances of the crusades to be a way to achieve prosperity, the idea of defending the Christian values prevails in media. The in-depth study of the topic has reinforced this image, supporting it with the overview of how the understanding of the crusades was changing over the years.
Jotischky, Andrew, and Caroline Hull. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Medieval World. Penguin Books, 2005.
Jotischky, Andrew. Crusading and the Crusader States. Longman, 2004.
The Crusades: A Timewatch Guide. Directed by Edward Hart. Produced by Edward Hart, performance by Thomas Asbridge, 360 Production, BBC, 2016. Web.