Photo by Sander Crombach on Unsplash

The crusades were a series of military campaigns by Christians primarily against the Muslims holding Jerusalem. The purpose was to regain control of Jerusalem- called the “City of God” by Christians- the city where Jesus had taught and was crucified. The main series of Crusades occurred between 1095 and 1291 C.E. The Crusades started in 1095 when Pope Claremont preached the first crusade at the Council of Claremont. The first crusade, which lasted from 1095–1099, established the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, providing more lands for the crusading knights, who often travelled across Europe to try their fortunes and to visit the Holy Sepulcher. The kingdom of Jerusalem was gradually lost until the last Christian city, Acre, fell in 1291. The crusades were eight in number, the first four being sometimes called the Principal Crusades, and the remaining four the Minor Crusades. The Crusades affected Europe of the middle Ages in so many ways. One of them is that it was an important factor in the history of the progress of civilization. The crusades influenced the wealth and power of the Catholic Church, commerce, political matters and intellectual development.

Although the crusades are known to be as religious wars and their purpose was to take back Jerusalem from the Muslims, according to Jonathan Riley-Smith, the length of time crusading lasted and its expression in many different theaters of war that make it so hard to define. The reason why Christians crusaded was not stable. It was adaptable and aspects of it changed in response to circumstances and fashion, but certain elements were constant. Christians justified war as holy and penitential. To crusade meant to engage in a war that was both holy, because it was believed to be waged on God’s behalf, and penitential, because those taking part considered themselves to be performing an act of penance. This penitential act in which they were engaged would be considered to God as a satisfactory remission of the sins that they had committed up to that date. It was the belief that crusades were collective acts of penance, repayments through self-punishment of the debts owed to God for sin, which distinguished them from other holy wars.

For churchmen and indeed for most laymen, however they might behave- to crusade was to engage in a serious business, dangerous, debilitating, and impoverishing and one that was primarily a penitential exercise. It was also to enter for a divine examination. The portrayal of the crusade as a test was closely associated with the conviction, inspired by the Old Testament examples, that success or failure was to be attributed less to the crusaders than to the divine will.

For the preachers, a crusade was a kind of pilgrimage because of the severity of the penance involved. These reasons changed through the 12th and 13th century since Christians lost the war. From that point on, they were only able to gain access to Jerusalem through diplomacy, not arms.

The crusading ideal was later renewed by latter-day missionaries and imperialists. In particular, Riley-Smith argues that the portrayal of crusades as “boorish” and concerned primarily for financial gain both distorted their penitential ideals and inspired European admiration for such Muslim leaders as Saladin. The idea of the crusade as an instrument of imperialism continued to be expressed, and even gained some impulse, after the British army ruled Palestine during the First World War, and France occupied Syria and Lebanon under mandate from the League of Nations. -Jihane Haddou

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