The Crusades were organized by western European Christians after centuries of Muslim wars of expansion. Their primary objectives were to stop the expansion of Muslim states, to reclaim for Christianity the Holy Land in the Middle East, and to recapture territories that had formerly been Christian. Many participants also believed that undertaking what they saw as holy war was a means of redemption and a way of achieving expiation of sins. Louis led the last two Crusades. The First Crusade, called in response to a request for help from the Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus , was astonishingly successful.
The Crusaders conquered Nicaea in Turkey and Antioch and then went on to seize Jerusalem , and they established a string of Crusader-ruled states. Richard signed a peace treaty with Saladin allowing Christians access to Jerusalem. The Fourth Crusade—rather than attacking Egypt , then the centre of Muslim power—sacked the Byzantine Christian city of Constantinople.
None of the following Crusades were successful. The Crusades slowed the advance of Islamic power and may have prevented western Europe from falling under Muslim suzerainty.
Changing perspectives on the Crusades
The Crusader states extended trade with the Muslim world, bringing new tastes and foods to Europe. The Crusades had a marked impact on the development of Western historical literature, bringing a plethora of chronicles and eyewitness accounts. However, Constantinople never returned to its former glory after being sacked by the Fourth Crusade, and the schism between Eastern and Roman Catholic Christianity was further entrenched.
The Islamic world saw the Crusaders as cruel invaders, which helped engender distrust and resentment toward the Christian world.
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Approximately two-thirds of the ancient Christian world had been conquered by Muslims by the end of the 11th century, including the important regions of Palestine , Syria , Egypt , and Anatolia. The Crusades, attempting to check this advance, initially enjoyed success, founding a Christian state in Palestine and Syria, but the continued growth of Islamic states ultimately reversed those gains.
By the 14th century the Ottoman Turks had established themselves in the Balkans and would penetrate deeper into Europe despite repeated efforts to repulse them. The Crusades constitute a controversial chapter in the history of Christianity , and their excesses have been the subject of centuries of historiography. The Crusades also played an integral role in the expansion of medieval Europe.
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Christian Violence and the Crusades
Article Media. Info Print Print. The Christians had full control of their religious places while the Muslims maintained control over their sacred places in the city and the surrounding villages. This complex reality is generally ignored, and if modern scholars acknowledge some of it, they do so only to emphasize its abnormality. In other words, modern scholars and the media , inadvertently for the most part, have put at the disposal of modern hate groups and terrorists a very suitable narrative that these groups have effectively employed to anchor and spread the discourse about an inevitable clash of civilizations.
For them, the crusader period was not different from the current clash between the Muslim world and the Christian West. This theme has been generally adopted by Muslim scholars in the last century. Both scholars draw the parallel struggle of the Muslims during the Crusader period and today. It is no surprise then that stories of such heroes and writings of activist scholars of the crusader period are very popular in the Muslim world today, especially among militants, as can be seen in the issues of Dabiq , the online magazine of Daesh. Had we done our job as historians properly, we would not have counted out as anomalies the enormous evidence that speaks of co-existence between crusaders and Muslims.
Had the media done its job properly, it would not have valorised violence. The narrative of the Crusades should have been presented as a complicated chapter in medieval history where people fought each other and also tolerated each other. But because scholars tend to examine the past with modern eyes theories, assumptions, conventions, biases, etc. The Crusades is not the only chapter misrepresented in modern scholarship and imagination.
Four Myths about the Crusades
The way we think of Islam is too governed by modern agendas, so much so that every narrative we offer is a mirror of our modern concerns. We also tend to valorise certain groups, thinking that they are best suited to fit a modern garb. For instance, many today praise Sufism mysticism for its idea of spiritual jihad that focuses on internal struggle to become a better person. Saladin had in his army a brigade of Sufis who demanded that crusader captivates be turned over to them to slaughter.
The Ottoman army employed Sufis, who still today practice their rituals with weapons. The point here is not to say that Sufism is violent, it is to draw attention to the fact that Sufism has also a very complex history and legacy. Saying this does not imply that Muslims cared much about jihad.
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Actually, the majority of Muslims historically have refused to contribute to jihad, even when under attack. This is rather clear from the tone of many jihad advocates who blame the Muslims harshly for not fulfilling the duty, such as in the Book of Jihad by al-Sulami d. As historians, we might not be able to free ourselves completely from modern biases. At least we can try to listen more to what history tells us: it is always much more complex than any contemporary conclusions we derive from it.
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