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Crusades: 175 Years of Conflict

The Crusades are aptly named, because there was more than one. There were eight (or seven or nine) and lasted from 1095 until 1270. The primary goal was to return the land of Palestine (current Israel) to Christian ownership. While initially successful, the Europeans were only able to hold Jerusalem and the Holy Land for a relatively short time.

The Muslims had maintained control of the Holy Land since the seventh century, yet Christian travelers (also called "pilgrims") continued to visit. This situation worked because the Christians—as any tourists—brought money to stay in inns, buy food, etc. Some Christians even lived amongst the Muslims. Yet eventually this warm welcome turned sour. With the rise of Hakem, the Caliph of Egypt in 1009, Christian pilgrims and residents began to be persecuted. Word of this behavior reached Europe. Pope Urban II decided to capture the Holy Land. In a speech given in 1095, Urban said, "They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches. . . On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you . . . to persuade all people . . . to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends. . . . Moreover, Christ commands it."

The First Crusade began in 1095 and captured a large part of Palestine; Jerusalem was defeated on July 14, 1099. So much territory was conquered that it was divided into four "crusader states." The Muslims countered by attacking and capturing the city of Edessa in 1144. The Second Crusade set out in 1147 to recapture Edessa but was unsuccessful. The Muslims continued to capture territory. Eventually, on July 4, 1187, the Muslims captured Jerusalem.

The Third Crusade set out in 1189 to recapture Jerusalem; it included Richard the Lionhearted. While they did capture other lands, they were not able to capture Jerusalem.

The Fourth Crusade set out in 1202, but on the way the armies decided to capture and sack Constantinople. (The Orthodox Church in Constantinople had separated from the Catholics in 1054.) After overrunning Constantinople, the armies decided to return to Europe; they did not reach the Holy Land.

In 1212 a Crusade of another sort formed, known as the Children’s Crusade. It appears to have been begun independently by Nicholas (12 years old from Germany) and Stephen (also 12 years old from France), yet joined forces. These two believed that if they led an army of children south to the sea that God would provide them transportation to the Holy Land and, once there, they would defeat the Muslims. By several accounts, many thousands of children joined. Once they reached the Mediterranean Sea ships were waiting and the children piled aboard. The ships sailed off and the children were never heard from again. (Years later one did return and reported that they had all been taken out to sea and sold as slaves to foreign countries.)

The Fifth (1217-1221), Sixth (1228-1229), Seventh (1249-1252), and Eighth (1270) Crusades all attempted to regain land in Palestine, most by landing in Egypt and traveling by land and attacking the Muslims from the south. They all failed. The last Christian town was defeated in 1291, thus ending the dream of Christian ownership of the Holy Land. The attempt lasted not quite 200 years.

©2004 Mark Nickens

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