A Very Brief Overview of the Crusades

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The Crusades are one of the most frequently mentioned historical events nowadays, but the vast majority of people who mention the Crusades know virtually nothing about them. In his excellent book Church History: An Essential Guide, Justo Gonzalez briefly outlines what happened in the Crusades and when they occurred.

First, the motivation. The most obvious motivation, according to Gonzalez, was religious, “to recover the Holy Land . . . from the ‘infidel’ Muslims; to go in pilgrimage to the holy places of Palestine; and to gain the remission of suffering in Purgatory that was promised the crusaders.”

There were also economic and political reasons. “The Crusades were a vast outpouring of landless peasants and equally landless nobles hoping to carve a better future in the lands to be taken from the Muslims.”

The First Crusade was proclaimed by Urban II in the year 1095. The first wave was composed mostly of peasants, but they were followed by military contingents in subsequent waves. In 1099 they actually took control of Jerusalem from the Muslims and formed the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. This Kingdom lasted until 1187 until Jerusalem was re-taken by the Muslims.

The Second Crusade was proclaimed in 1144 when the Muslim Turks took Edessa. According to Gonzalez, “Its military achievements were negligible.”

The Third Crusade was launched in response to the fall of Jerusalem in 1187. This crusade included the famous King Richard the Lion Hearted of England. Their only military achievement was the taking of Acre. However, King Richard did negotiate an agreement with Sultan Saladin to allow Christians to go in pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

“The Fourth Crusade was a disaster.” Instead of the crusaders reaching the Holy Land to fight Muslims, they sacked the Christian city of Constantinople in 1204, the seat of the Christian Byzantine Empire. It was formed into the Latin Empire of Constantinople until 1261 when the Byzantine Empire was reestablished.

“The Fifth Crusade (1219) attacked Egypt, but only managed to take the port of Damietta, which was retaken by the Arabs two years later.”

“The Sixth and Seventh were led by King Louis IX of France (Saint Louis), and had practically no results.” These occurred in 1248 and 1270.

There you have it, a very brief overview of the Crusades. If you want more information, there are certainly volumes written about the Crusades. One book, in particular, that has come highly recommended to me, is Christopher Tyerman’s God’s War: A New History of the Crusades.

  • A common misconception about the Crusades is that these wars were an unprovoked aggression by Christian Europe against the peaceful Muslims. This is, of course, utter nonsense, but it is the politically-correct viewpoint among many academics and in the media.

    For several centuries after Mohammad, Islamic armies steadily advanced against the Christian lands of the Middle East, North Africa, and into the heart of Europe. Most of this was done through military conquest, with its associated slaughter of innocents and subjugation of those who survived. Over time, Christianity was virtually extinguished in much of North Africa (land of Augustine and other church fathers) and what is now Turkey (think of Paul’s missionary journeys). This was done over time through intense persecution, taxation, and humiliation of the Christian “infidels”. The Moslems eventually took Spain and pressed into France, where they were defeated at Tours in 732.

    The Crusades must be remembered in this context. This was a life-or-death struggle between Europe and the Muslims. Sometimes the tide went the Muslims’ way, and sometimes it went the other way.

    This is not to say that there were not atrocities committed by Crusaders in the name of Christianity. Nor does anyone I know advocate war as an appropriate way to advance Christianity (and even during the Crusades I believe there were few who would have said this). But I am glad that the armies of “Christian” Europe successfully fought off the Muslims, and counter-attacks (i.e. the Crusades) were part of what had to be done.

  • Ibrahim Ahmed

    Simply ‘Christianity’ has been bloody – they have killed off all christian sects, i.e. arians, paulicians…etc. Muslims were also fought because they believed in the unity of God, and view Jesus as a man, and a prophet, and not divine. The crusaders were political, economical and twisted religious ideology to counter the advance of the turth by the catholics who killed anyone who opposed their dogma. In the holy land, Muslims who ruled it for 400 years before the crusades, everyone worshipped side by side peacefully, and no one was ever killed unjustly, and yes, christians and jews had their own courts, but they often preferred the Muslim shariah courts, because its clearly more just. Well, the crusades had succeeded in killing ‘Muslims, Christians, Jews of men, women, children, elderly, animals and all that moves. They burnt down temples, churches and mosques…its reported that in that bloody day, blood ran knee high to their horses…well, what do you expect from peasant criminals who are promised ‘full remission of their sins’ by their popes (as though the pope in their god!!). Well, Muslims under ‘Salah-ud-Din Al-Ayyubi’ put an end to their criminal injustices against humanity and restored the peace and love amongst the faithful. I hope people learn their history well before they come on defending atrocities as the crusades. Well – I hope you also know that your popes were the designers of Nazi Germany, who then blessed Hitler to committing his massacres againt the 6 million innocent Jews.

  • Crusader101

    ummmm… there were actually 9 crusades the eighth crusade was in 1270 and the 9th in 1271 so i think you should add some information on those extra 2

  • Doha

    I was just trying to find a summery for the first crusade only

  • AS
  • Sidd

    If you’re trying to place Christianity higher than Islam, you should also note the Christians did the same to Muslim Africans during the slave trade. 30% of African slaves were Muslim and forced to leave their religion into Christianity. In fact all over Africa, Christians pushed their agenda, enough of the equatorial African nations used to be Muslim and other African native religion, such as Ethiopia and Kenya. Christianity has also been the cause for the deaths of millions of Aboriginals when they took ?America. Let’s not forget what happened to pre-christianity religions in Europe who lost all their land and dignity. I could just as easily say, “For several centuries after Jesus Christianity armies has advanced into Europe, America, and Africa, most through military conquest.”

    However, I know better than to blame everything on religion, they are just calls to scripture and can be interpreted in any way. Islam and Christianity were both bloody in their history and were both equal in my opinion.