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The Overview of The First, Second, and Third Crusades

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The crusades were a series of religious wars sanctioned by the Latin Church between the 11th and 16th centuries, especially the campaigns in the Eastern Mediterranean with the aim of capturing Jerusalem from Islamic rule. Crusades were also fought for many other reasons such as to recapture Christian territory or defend Christians in non-Christian lands, resolve conflict among rival Roman Catholic groups, gain a political or territorial advantage, or to combat paganism and heresy. The term crusade itself is modern and has in more recent times been extended to include religiously motivated Christian military campaigns in the Late Middle Ages.

The First Crusade happened between 1096 and 1099. Historians consider the sermon preached by Pope Urban II at Clermont-Ferrand in November 1095 to have been the spark that fuelled a wave of military campaigns against Muslims lasting for a period of two hundred years. Historians have divided these wars into as many as eight periods or phases the most important and most effective of which was the first crusade attack which resulted in the occupation of Jerusalem. Four armies of Crusaders were formed from troops of different Western European regions, led by Raymond of Saint-Gilles, Godfrey of Bouillon, Hugh of Vermandois, and Bohemond of Taranto (with his nephew Tancred); they were set to depart for Byzantium in August 1096. A less organized band of knights and commoners known as the “People’s Crusade” set off before the others under the command of a popular preacher known as Peter the Hermit. Peter’s army traipsed through the Byzantine Empire, leaving destruction in their wake. Resisting Alexius’ advice to wait for the rest of the Crusaders, they crossed the Bosporus in early August. In the first major clash between the Crusaders and the Muslims, Turkish forces crushed the invading Europeans at Cibotus. Another group of Crusaders, led by the notorious Count Emicho, carried out a series of massacres of Jews in various towns in the Rhineland in 1096, drawing widespread outrage and causing a major crisis in Jewish-Christian relations.

When the four main armies of Crusaders arrived in Constantinople, Alexius insisted that their leaders swear an oath of loyalty to him and recognize his authority over any land regained from the Turks, as well as any other territory they might conquer; all but Bohemond resisted taking the oath. In May 1097, the Crusaders and their Byzantine allies attacked Nicea (now Iznik, Turkey), the Seljuk capital in Anatolia; the city surrendered in late June. Despite deteriorating relations between the Crusaders and Byzantine leaders, the combined force continued its march through Anatolia, capturing the great Syrian city of Antioch in June 1098. After various internal struggles over control of Antioch, the Crusaders began their march toward Jerusalem, then occupied by Egyptian Fatimids (who as Shiite Muslims were enemies of the Sunni Seljuks). Encamping before Jerusalem in June 1099, the Christians forced the besieged city’s governor to surrender by mid-July.

Having achieved their goal in an unexpectedly short period of time, many of the Crusaders departed for home. To govern the conquered territory, those who remained established four large western settlements, or Crusader states, in Jerusalem, Edessa, Antioch and Tripoli. Guarded by formidable castles, the Crusader states retained the upper hand in the region until around 1130, when Muslim forces began gaining ground in their own holy war (or jihad) against the Christians, whom they called “Franks.” In 1144, the Seljuk general Zangi, governor of Mosul, captured Edessa, leading to the loss of the northernmost Crusader state. News of Edessa’s fall stunned Europe, and led Christian authorities in the West to call for another Crusade. Led by two great rulers, King Louis VII of France and King Conrad III of Germany, the Second Crusade began in 1147. That October, the Turks crushed Conrad’s forces at Dorylaeum, site of a great victory during the First Crusade. After Louis and Conrad managed to assemble their armies at Jerusalem, they decided to attack the Syrian stronghold of Damascus with an army of some 50,000 (the largest Crusader force yet). Previously well disposed towards the Franks, Damascus’ ruler was forced to call on Nur al-Din, Zangi’s successor in Mosul, for aid. The combined Muslim forces dealt a humiliating defeat to the Crusaders, decisively ending the Second Crusade; Nur al-Din would add Damascus to his expanding empire in 1154.

After numerous attempts by the Crusaders of Jerusalem to capture Egypt, Nur al-Din’s forces led by General Shirkuh seized Cairo in 1169 and forced the Crusader army to evacuate. Outrage over these defeats inspired the Third Crusade, led by rulers such as the aging Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (who was drowned at Anatolia before his entire army reached Syria), King Philip II of France and King Richard I of England (known as Richard the Lionheart). In September 1191, Richard’s forces defeated those of Saladin in the battle of Arsuf; it would be the only true battle of the Third Crusade. From the recaptured city of Jaffa, Richard reestablished Christian control over some of the region and approached Jerusalem, though he refused to lay siege to the city. In September 1192, Richard and Saladin signed a peace treaty that re-established the Kingdom of Jerusalem (though without the city of Jerusalem) and ended the Third Crusade.

The remainder of the 13th century saw a variety of Crusades aimed not so much at toppling Muslim forces in the Holy Land as at combating any and all of those seen as enemies of the Christian faith. The Albigensian Crusade (1208-29) aimed to root out the heretical Cathari or Albigensian sect of Christianity in France, while the Baltic Crusades (1211-25) sought to subdue pagans in Transylvania. In the Fifth Crusade, put in motion by Pope Innocent III before his death in 1216, the Crusaders attacked Egypt from both land and sea but were forced to surrender to Muslim defenders led by Saladin’s nephew, Al-Malik al-Kamil, in 1221. In 1229, in what became known as the Sixth Crusade, Emperor Frederick II achieved the peaceful transfer of Jerusalem to Crusader control through negotiation with al-Kamil. The peace treaty expired a decade later, and Muslims easily regained control of Jerusalem.

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The Overview of the First, Second, and Third Crusades. (2018, November 19). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 28, 2023, from
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