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History is full of significant events that had great impacts on the lives of people and nations of the time. One of these great events is the Crusades, which were devastating wars undertaken by Christians against Muslims. The Crusades can trace their start to November 1095 when Pope Urban II made an appeal in France for the Knights to embark on a military expedition to free the Holy city of Jerusalem from Muslim power. The Crusade as to be a “war of liberation” since Jerusalem, which was regarded as the Christian holy land, was under Muslim control. In response to Urban’s call, over 60,000 Knights and peasants took up arms and headed East to fight against the Muslims and recover the Holy Land (Tyerman, 1998). The first crusade was followed by a series of other major and minor crusades, which continued to be waged until 1291. This paper will argue that the Crusades were a failure since they led to great losses for all the parties involved in the wars and they did not lead to any lasting benefits.
Negative outcomes of the Crusades
The crusades failed to attain their main objective, which was to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims. When Pope Urban II called for the crusade, a Christian army marched to Jerusalem to reclaim the Holy Land and establish a Christian control in the area. Due to the dedication of the army, the First crusade succeeded in taking control over Jerusalem. However, the Christian armies were unable to hold on to the captured land and at the end; the Holy Land remained in the hands of the Muslims. In spite of many successive crusades, the Christians were unable to liberate Jerusalem (Nicolle 1986). In spite of all the finances invested in the war and lives lost, Europe’s Christians were forced to accept that they were not to be the guardians of the Holy Land.
The crusades led to religious intolerance by the Muslims who had been the main target for the crusading forces. The crusades were primarily launched against the Muslims who were in control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Before the crusades, the Muslim rulers demonstrated tolerance to other religions and the Christians and Jews in the Holy Land were treated favorably. Nayak (2008) documents that the Islamic community accepted Christians and Jews as believers of an inferior faith and no persecutions were supported by the state. This good relationship was severely damaged by the crusades, which were characterized by aggressive attacks against Muslims by Christian forces. Nayak (2008) contends that the Crusades against Saracens “reversed the relationship between Christianity and Islam and created enormous damage” (p.273). The hostility started by the crusades continued to characterize the relationship between these two religions for centuries.
Cities were robbed off old treasures and historical artifacts because of the crusades. The temples in Jerusalem were filled with treasures and relics that had been collected over the centuries. The Muslim rulers had not respected these religious artifacts and preserved them throughout their rule. However, the crusading forces led to the loss of these treasures. The crusading forces were in part made up of peasants who had been drawn to the way by the promise of wealth and riches in the East. These soldiers were therefore not noble and took any opportunity to enrich themselves. Princess Anna Comnena of Constantinople recorded that the crusaders were unstable and greedy for money (Andrea & Overfield, 2012). When these crusading armies invaded the Holy Land, they broke into the temples and looted Jerusalem off gold, silver, and other treasures.
The crusades led to the killing of many innocent civilians and the destruction of property in Jerusalem. In their quest to liberate the Holy Land, the crusaders engaged in a brutal campaign and looting. Gonzalez (1984) documents that the Crusaders went through the Holy land carrying out a massacre of the population of Jerusalem. Historians note that the killing was not only confined to the Muslim armies but also innocent civilians. In the 1099 siege of Jerusalem, the crusaders overran the city killing the Saracens who were retreating.
The Crusades accelerated the collapse of the great Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire was a Christian state and therefore under the protection of the Church. The crusaders passed through the Byzantine Empire as they headed towards the Holy Land to wage war against the Muslims. It was understood that the crusading armies would not attack their fellow Christians. However, the Fourth Crusade led to conditions that led to the attack against the Byzantine Empire. The recruitment for the Fourth Crusade by Pope Innocent 111 in 1198 failed to obtain the financial support necessary to sustain the crusade. In early 1203, the crusading force en route to Jerusalem was promised financial help by Prince Alexius Angelos if they helped him to reclaim his Byzantine imperial title (Jonathan, 2004).
The armies of the Forth Crusades therefore captured the Byzantine Capital of Constantinople and proceeded to loot it off great amounts of treasure. Jonathan (2004) documents that Constantinople had served as the greatest metropolis in the Christian world for centuries. This City had been able to resist numerous attacks by Arabs and Persians through the centuries and the capital had been a cultural and economic hub. After the attack by the crusaders, the Byzantine Empire was not able to resist the attacks by the Muslims for long and it collapsed in 1453.
The crusades had a positive impact on European life. Before the crusades, European society was not very advanced and the Byzantium Empire even regarded the Westerners as Barbarians. Europe had not opened herself up to the rest of the world and most citizens were unaware of the outside world. Because of the crusades, ordinary Europeans and even nobles ventured into distant lands. The interaction that Europeans had with the outside world led to an enrichment of European life and culture (Byfield, 2008). Western Europe was able to benefit from the cultural advances of Greece as many Greek scholars took refuge in the West. The Economy of Europe was also stimulated as the continent opened itself up for trade with the Middle East and Asia. Many crusaders returned home with treasured looted from the Holy land and goods acquired from the East. This created a demand for Eastern products therefore fostering trade.
Historians suggest that the Crusades helped to ensure the stability of the European countries for a while. Medieval Europe was full of social upheavals and rebellions by the people. The Crusades provided an outlet for their aggression and energy that might have been used to disrupt social life in Europe. Morris (2000) states that the most of the aggressive members of the society made the journey to the Middle East to take part in the war. Without these members, the rulers did not have trouble maintaining social order in their kingdoms.
The Crusades established Western Europe as the global center of Christianity. Before the Crusades, Constantinople hosted the greatest civilization and it was regarded as the Christian capital. This city had many relics and historical documents, which made it attractive to scholars and religious pilgrims. Riley-Smith (1999) notes that the Fourth Crusade reduced the Eastern Empire to a shadow of its former self and made it vulnerable to attacks by the Turks. These conditions hastened the end of Constantinople, which had served as the Center of Christendom. Following the destruction of the Byzantine Empire, the most civilized part of Christendom became centered in the West. France and its neighboring European states became the fount of Christian and European civilization because of the Crusades.
This paper set out to discuss the historical crusades carried out during the 11th century in order to show that the battles were failures. It began by nothing that this wars were waged by Christians who aspired to liberate the Holy Land from the Muslims who had established control in Jerusalem for Centuries. The paper has revealed that the Crusades were not only unsuccessful in capturing Jerusalem but they also created a legacy of suspicion and animosity between Muslims and Christians. The expeditions also resulted in the loss of many lives and the destruction of property both in the Byzantine Empire and in the Holy Land. The paper has also highlighted the positive effects that the battle had on European cultural advancement and trade expansion. From the arguments raised in this paper, it is clear that the crusade mostly led to negative effects. It can therefore be presumed that all the parties involved would have benefited more if the crusades were never waged.
Andrea, A., & Overfield, J.H. (2012). The Human Record: Sources of Global History (Seventh Edition) Volume I: To 1700. Boston: Wadsworth-Cengage Learning.
Byfield, T. (2008). A Glorious Disaster: A.D. 1100 to 1300: The Crusades: Blood, Valor, Iniquity, Reason, Faith. New York: Christian History Project, 2008. Print.
Gonzalez J. (1984). The Story of Christianity. NY: Harper.
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Morris, D. (2000). A History of England. London: CUP Archive, 2000.
Nayak, A. (2008). Crusade Violence: Understanding and Overcoming the Impact of Mission among Muslims. International Review of Mission, 97(386), 273-291.
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