30 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Thirty

The Crusades

What were the causes and results of the Crusades?

The Crusades were a series of church-sanctioned military expeditions from Europe to the Holy Land between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries. Their purpose and results have been controversial subjects from the beginning. They have variously been described as holy wars, moneymaking ventures, quests for personal glory, land grabs, and atrocities. They had a profound effect on the cultural and political landscape of both Europe and the Middle East.

Although there were a number of minor crusades, some within Christendom for political reasons, what historians normally call the Crusades began as an assault on the Muslim holders of what Christians (mainly the Roman Catholic Church under various popes) considered the “Holy Lands,” most particularly Jerusalem, which had been under Muslim dominion since 637 AD. The Crusades were by no means simply Christians versus Muslims, however, as various nominally Christian factions fought with each other and against the Byzantine Empire. In 1204, a crusader army looted and pillaged Constantinople, fatally weakening the Byzantines, leaving them ripe for the picking by the Ottoman Turks in the fifteenth century. Nevertheless, the stated purpose of the Roman Catholic Church was to free “Christian” lands from the hands of Muslim usurpers. To this end, the popes used oaths of loyalty, admonitions of duty, and both indulgence and forgiveness of sins to coax European nobles and their vassals to undertake the arduous journey thousands of miles from home to fight the enemies of God.

Various religious/military orders arose from the crusades, most notably the Knights Templar, which became immensely wealthy before being outlawed by Pope Clement V at the behest of King Philip IV of France, likely because he owed the Templars –who were bankers as much as soldiers- enormous debts he could not pay. By declaring the Templars heretics, he not only cancelled his debts, but he and the church confiscated the immense holdings of the Templars. Despite this official persecution and the torture and murder of thousands of Templars, enough of them survived or disappeared to keep Templar legend alive, sometimes associated with Freemasonry. The outfitting and provision of huge armies led to significant economic benefits for traders in Europe and along the routes to Jerusalem. A number of Frankish and other crusaders, rather than liberating the lands they conquered, set up their own kingdoms. Enormous sums of wealth changed hands, both in pillage and trade. Fortunes were made and lost on all sides. The crusades were not an event, rather a series of events, with varying results and degrees of success and failure. The First Crusade captured Jerusalem after a siege and massacre in 1099 AD. It was reconquered by the Ayyubid Dynasty in 1187 AD, and but for a brief revival of the Kingdom between 1229 and1244 AD, it would remain largely in Muslim/Ottoman hands until the British overthrew the Ottomans in 1917 AD.

One of the most lasting results of the crusades was the Europization of the population of the Levant. Many of the European invaders stayed and intermarried with the local population, creating a significant Euro/Arab Roman Catholic population. After the British takeover, “Levantine” was a racial slur used to refer to “Christians” who had adopted Arab customs and dress. The Crusades also legitimized the use of military force by the church. This would have profound influence in the form of European internal wars of religion, and the indigenous peoples of the Americas under the Spanish Inquisition.

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