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Essay/Term paper: The first crusade

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Religion

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The First Crusade

As the year 1000A.D. was approaching the strength of Christianity in
Western Europe was growing along with its population. The newly reformed and
organized Church began to gain great power. A new Europe was being born with
the Catholic Church as a force in every area of life.
In Christian beliefs, the savior, Jesus Christ was to return to earth
and bring judgment on its people. Many clergy members along with lay people
believed this would take place in the year 1000A.D. . Knowing this, the people
of Europe awaited the return of Christ and feared the Wrath of God. Religious
people wanted to make up for their sins and avoid the horrors of eternal
damnation. Clergy members were often consulted to figure out what would be a
suitable penance. " The Church itself still frequently imposed pilgrimages as a
penance" (Campbell p.14). A pilgrimage to the Holy Land was not an easy task to
say the least. The road to Jerusalem was jagged. On the way to Jerusalem,
pilgrims were often murdered by thieves. They were defenseless and often did
not return. Some pilgrims did return from the Holy Land. They came back with
tales that planted the seeds for a Crusade.
"The pilgrims that returned from the Holy City of Jerusalem recounted
tales, often grossly exaggerated, of the horrible pollution of the sacred places
at the hands of the Turks" (Campbell p23). Other stories of the destruction of
the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the burial place of Jesus, by the Turks
surfaced in the early eleventh century. The news of the destruction of the
Sepulcher was mourned in every Christian country. The nations looked to Rome
for a solution to this most serious of Problems.
The Byzantine emperor asked for the aid of the Pope to help him with his
Turk problem. To the Pope, it would be a strategic move to aid the Byzantine
emperor. The Pope realized that this offered the opportunity to re-establish
the universal Church and establish the supremacy of Rome. In 1095, at the
Council of Clermont in southern France, "Urban II challenged Christians to take
up their weapons against the infidels and participate in a holy war and
recapture the Holy Land" (Spielvogel,p344). Pope Urban II addressed the French
telling them of the horrors imposed on the Holy Land. He told them all of the
destruction and desecration of churches, and the torturous treatment of the
Christian inhabitants of the Holy Land. The large crowd listening to the Pope's
speech was saddened and outraged. The Pope called on Christian knights to set
out to the Holy Land and free it from the claws of the pagan Seljuk Turks. He
promised any knight who set out to the Holy Land " the remission of sins and be
sure of the incorruptible glory of the kingdom of heaven" (Spielvogel,p345).
The crowd immediately supported it by crying out " It is the will of
God"(Spielvogel,p345). This can be seen as the starting point of the period of
the Crusades.
A Crusade immediately followed known as the Peasant's Crusade. This
Crusade was not organized by the papacy. They were mostly poor or peasants and
were inadequately prepared. On their way to the East they terrorized the
Balkans by looting and persecuting the Jews. Eventually, they reached
Constantinople and were sent by the Emperor Alexius I to Asia Minor where they
were slaughtered by the Seljuk Turks.
A papal supported Crusade was soon to follow. The soldiers for the
first true Crusade were recruited from the warrior class of knights. By 1096, "
an international military force, with a large nucleus of knights from central
and southern France, Normandy, and Norman Sicily, made its way across the
Balkans and assembled in Constantinople" (Hollister,p.189). The warriors of the
First Crusade numbered around 25,000 or 30,000. The number of troops may seem
minuscule by today's standards it was " immense in the eyes of contemporaries "
( Hollister,p.189). Pope Urban II appointed Adhemar of Le Puy, a French bishop,
to lead the Crusaders into the Holy Land. The First Crusade was underway.
There were many reasons for knights to venture out to the Holy Land.
Many joined the Crusade for the Pope's pledge of the remission of sins and the
incorruptible glory of the kingdom of heaven. To them it was like an " armed
pilgrimage" (Spielvogel,p346). Others saw a more materialistic goal. They saw
victory in the Holy Land as a chance to benefit themselves. They felt they
could gain territories, wealth or a title. The Crusade was not only a " Holy
By 1097, the noble warriors from Western Europe had reached the
Byzantine capital of Constantinople. When the Byzantine Emperor Alexius saw the
amount of crusading soldiers he was not entirely accepting. He was unsure of
the true motives of the Crusaders. To him they posed a threat to his empire due
to the size of the armies. Alexius truly called on the West only to aid him in
recapturing the lost Byzantine provinces of Asia Minor. The Crusaders were
determined on the conquest of the Holy Land. Alexius made the Crusaders promise
homage to the lands they would conquer. Alexius promised the Crusaders military
aid but it never truly came. After the Crusaders left Constantinople ties with
the Byzantines were severed.
The crusading armies then moved southeastward across Asia Minor. The
immense number of cavalry and foot soldiers reached the ancient city of
Antioch by 1098. " After a long and complex siege " the Crusaders captured
Antioch ( Hollister,p.192). After the capturing of Antioch, the Crusaders moved
towards Palestine. In June of the year 1099 the Crusaders reached the "
Holy City " of Jerusalem. " After a five week siege ", Jerusalem was taken by
the Crusaders ( Spielvogel,p.346). The victory was celebrated by the plundering
of the city. The Crusaders carried on the "Will of God " through the brutal
slaughtering of Jerusalem's non-Christian inhabitants. Eyewitnesses described
the battle as being so gruesome that their " feet were colored to their ankles
with the blood of the slain" and that " neither women nor children were spared"
Conquests in the future followed. As the conquest was ending, the
Crusaders set up feudal states in the conquered lands. Four main Latin states
were created. They were the principality of Antioch, the county of Edessa, the
county of Tripoli and the kingdom of Jerusalem. The ruler of the kingdom of
Jerusalem, Godffrey de Bouillon, had the most power. He held the other states
as fiefs. The Latin states relied heavily upon the Italian merchant cities for
supplies due to the fact that the lands bordering them were enemies.
The First Crusade was the most successful of the Crusades. In only
three years the Crusaders fulfilled their goal of conquering the Holy Land. They
were successful in freeing the Holy Land from the clutches of non-Christian
rulers. They successfully carried out the wishes of the Pope and , more
importantly, what they believed to be the " Will of God ." The crusading
knights gained new powers through the conquest along with salvation.
Economically, the First Crusade was a success for Western Europe. New ports on
the Mediterranean were in the hands of Western lords, opening new gates for
On the other hand, the First Crusade could be seen to be a failure in
many ways. Relations with the Byzantine Empire grew far more distant. The
Pope's dream of unifying the eastern and western churches could not be achieved.
The gruesome display of barbarism on behalf of the Crusaders could also be seen
as a failure in morals. It seemed that the Crusaders, for the most part, lost
their way. Their goals switched from religious to materialistic.
The First Crusade was the first installment in a series that lose their
" holiness" and become less successful. Militarily, the First Crusade was an
utter success. It started a hatred for the West by the Near and Middle Eastern
peoples that still is strong today.


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