Ancient history

The Crusades

The Crusades they are the warrior expeditions that the Christians of Western Europe undertook, between the 11th and 13th centuries, to recover from the hands of the Turks the Holy Places, where Jesus lived.
In the 11th century, after having been the object of invasions, Europe became an invader, thus beginning a great migration movement whose main objective was to recover the city of Jerusalem , which had fallen into the hands of the Seljuk Turks, who were Muslims.

These mass pilgrimages of people of all conditions received the name of crusades , because its members sewed a cross on their clothing , to identify themselves as Christians and, at the same time, differentiate themselves from Muslims.
The crusades, which were carried out until the 13th century, were not only due to a religious motive. Other causes of these armed expeditions were:
– The increase in population, which caused a search for new lands and new horizons.
– The presence of the Turks in Palestine or the Holy Land which threatened with its expansion both the Byzantine Empire and the states of Western Europe.
– The need for the Papacy to strengthen its power before the Holy Roman Emperor, and to channel the warrior spirit of the knights in a religious sense, replacing the war between Christians with the fight against Muslims.

The Council of Clermont

In the year 1095, Pope Urban II he first called for a crusade to conquer the Holy Land at a council held in the French city of Clermont. The main objective of the Supreme Pontiff was to offer Byzantium the necessary reinforcements to expel the Seljuk Turks from Asia Minor .
With this, Pope Urban hoped that the Byzantine Church, which had separated from the Roman Church since 1054, would recognize the supremacy of Rome and, in this way, restore the unity of Christianity .
Clermont was attended by many clerics and a large number of lesser nobles who were also addressed by the Pope.
At this council, Urban offered spiritual and material rewards to all those who were encouraged to undertake the crusade, the remission of sins and the obtaining of territories in the Holy Land. While the warrior was absent, the Church was also committed to looking after his assets.
As the assembly unfolded, its members, prisoners of emotion, exclaimed a phrase that became the motto of the crusades:«God wants it!» . That same year the preparation of the first crusade began with the gathering of small armies belonging to European nobles.

Speech of Pope Urban II

Part of Pope Urban II's speech at the Council of Clermont:

Jerusalem, Holy City

Jerusalem was one of the largest pilgrimage centers in the Middle Ages. The Christians They went there for various reasons. On the one hand, in this city is the Holy Sepulchre, which was the tomb of Christ, from which he was resurrected. On the other hand, there rises the Mount of Olives, where the Lord spent his last night, and Mount Carmel, where he was crucified. Finally, a couple of kilometers away is Bethlehem, where Christ was born.
Jerusalem is also important for Muslims . For them, Jerusalem is Al Quds, which means "The Holy One", because, according to what it says, from this city Mohammed ascended to heaven mounted on a steed. Therefore, for Muslims, Jerusalem is the third holy city after Mecca and Medina.
The tradition of pilgrimage to Jerusalem was deeply rooted among all Christians despite the fact that, since the seventh century, this city had fallen into the hands of the Arabs. While the Arabs had always been very tolerant of the Christian pilgrims who came to it, the Turks, who occupied Jerusalem in the year 1076, adopted a hostile attitude. According to reports reaching Europe, the Turks had become relentless persecutors of any Christian who came to the city. This news contributed to mobilize the spirits of the Christians to reconquer the holy city.

The Poor Man's Crusade

While the nobles were organizing themselves for the first crusade, a French preacher, Peter the Hermit , he began to preach his own crusade riding on a donkey.
Peter managed to summon more than ten French and German peasants, who made their way to Jerusalem long before the pompous armies of the nobles. Almost all of them were poor and came from overpopulated towns where the fate of the poor was always calamity. These men and women sold their meager possessions to undertake the journey.
This expedition, however, lacked organization and military preparation, the followers of Pedro the Hermit did not carry weapons, food or water. That is why at first, they lived on charity.
Then, when they reached Greece, the Crusaders began to pillage villages to feed themselves. As they were too poor to be able to buy swords and spears, they attacked with any object:sticks, knives, axes or even slingshots.
In this way, this great human mass crossed the borders of the Byzantine Empire converted into a fierce gang destroying everything in its path.
The first encounters with the Turks were favorable. However, the popular crusade led by Peter the Hermit ended in dramatic failure , only the crusaders who renounced the Christian faith were spared death.

Pedro the Hermit and the poor

After Clermont, many preachers called for a crusade. The most popular was Peter the Hermit. This character, who was born in Amiens, France, had dedicated his entire life to asceticism . He was always barefoot and it is said that he never tasted meat or wine.
According to the testimonies of his time, his words seemed divine. Therefore, the peasants who heard him felt that his call was a message of freedom. It was said that the Lord had appeared to him, commissioning him to organize the first crusade. For this reason he was venerated as a saint.

The First Crusade

In the year 1096 great lords of France, Flanders and Germany set out with their armies for Constantinople. Among these nobles the most famous were Raimundo de Tolosa, Godofredo de Bouillon and Bohemond de Taranto.
When all the crusaders were assembled, they crossed the Bosporus and entered Asia Minor. From this place, they went to Syria, where the first confrontation against the Turks took place. After six months of fighting, the crusaders triumphed in the city of Antioch and conquered Jerusalem in the year 1099 .
The fall of Jerusalem was followed by a great slaughter, all the Muslims, men, women and children, were killed.
Shortly thereafter, the Crusaders advanced to North Africa and organized, under the feudal system, the places they conquered, and established three Christian or Latin states in the East and one in Africa:

  • The principality of Antioch , in Syria, led by Bohemond of Tarentum.
  • The principality of Edessa , also in Syria, entrusted to Baldwin I, brother of Godfrey of Bouillon.
  • The kingdom of Jerusalem , in Palestine, which became the political and religious capital of the Latins and whose governor was Godfrey de Bouillon.
  • The County of Tripoli , northeast of Africa, granted to Raimundo de Tolosa and that in the year 1187, after an internal crisis, was annexed to the principality of Antioch.

To protect the new Christian territories, the Military Orders were born, knights led by monks who took up arms to defend the faith, and who put themselves at the service of the pilgrims, providing them with lodging and security. The main Military Orders in the Holy Land were the Templars, the Hospitallers, the Teutonic Order and the Order of Malta.

The Military Orders

The military power of the Crusaders in the East was reinforced by the Military Orders that devoted themselves to the defense of the Holy Land:the Templars , which took their name from the fortress located on an ancient temple of Solomon; the Hospitals , which were installed in the hospital of San Juan de Jerusalem; the Teutonic Order , made up of Teutonic or German Knights, and the Order of Malta , who settled on the island of Malta. Each of these Orders consisted of a group of about 300 knights physically prepared for combat and possessing horses and weapons. They also received the collaboration of Muslim mercenaries. In this way the Orders acquired strength and much prestige. In the county of Tripoli, for example, the Templars maintained 20 fortresses, and in the principality of Antioch, the Hospitallers owned a convent in each city and countless fiefdoms with castles, abbeys, villages, and lands.

The Crusades of the XII Century

Exposed to Muslim attacks, the Christian states could not hold out without reinforcements. The second crusade It was organized for this purpose, but it could not fulfill its mission, since in 1187, the sultan Saladin took Jerusalem. With this, the main city of the Palestinian kingdom was lost, as well as the principality of Edessa.
The third crusade , carried out by sea in the year 1187, was headed by Federico Barbarossa, Emperor of Germany; Philip II Augustus, King of France, and Richard the Lionheart, who was the monarch of England.
Of the three, only Ricardo reached Jerusalem, he failed to occupy the city but signed a pact with Saladin by which he allowed Christian pilgrimages to the holy city. However, the structure of the Crusader domain in the East collapsed:all the territories were lost, except San Juan de Acre and its surroundings.

Two kings, one emperor and one war

The third crusade was organized by Richard the Lionheart, King of England; Philip II Augustus of France and the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. When Frederick went to the third crusade he was already an old man. On the way to Palestine, Federico drowned while crossing a river on horseback. Ricardo, on the other hand, was younger and a skilled soldier; he stayed fighting for more than two years in the Holy Land but did not defeat the Muslims. Felipe II of France took advantage of Ricardo's long absence to return to his country and, from there, attack the English who had seized some territories in France. The English were defeated and, with it, France recovered its territories.

The Crusades of the XIII Century

Unlike the first crusades, the crusades of the thirteenth century were not so much aimed at the recovery of Jerusalem, but rather at the conquest of new places to trade and from which to obtain greater profits in the East.
These movements, which were all made by sea, therefore lost their religious meaning.
Therefore, those who organized the fourth crusade in 1204 they were Venetian merchants, who invited some French nobles to participate. In exchange for money, these nobles contributed their armies.
Instead of heading to Palestine, however, the Crusaders took Constantinople, an important trading center at the time.
Taking Constantinople, the Crusaders founded the so-called Latin Empire , the year 1204 and they maintained it until the year 1261. This fact distanced Rome even more from the official Byzantine Church; therefore, Pope Innocence III excommunicated the Crusaders.
The fifth crusade Commanded by King Andrew II of Hungary, it developed between 1217 and 1221. Its objective was to take Egypt and from there advance to Palestine. Once again, this crusade failed.
The sixth crusade it was undertaken in 1227 by Emperor Frederick II of Germany. This monarch managed to take Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. However, he entered into business dealings with the Turks, which caused an outright rejection in Europe.
The last two crusades, seventh and eighth , were organized in the year 1248 and 1268 by Luis IX or San Luis , king of France. These movements recovered the religious purpose of the first crusades; their goal was to dominate North Africa. That is why the attacks were directed against Egypt and Tunisia.
However, both expeditions failed. The Eighth Crusade was the last expedition to the East; With the fall of Acre in 1291, this important episode in European history ended.

Saint Louis or Louis IX, King of France

Louis IX, King of France from 1235, was a very pious monarch. It is said that every Friday he had himself whipped in memory of the passion of Christ. Driven by his deep religiosity, he organized the seventh and eighth crusades. In the seventh, he was taken prisoner by the Muslims in Egypt. While in prison, he preached Christianity among his jailers. To free him, the French paid a large ransom. Despite this, in 1270 he embarked on the eighth. Only his death could end his desire to reclaim the Holy Land; he died in Tunis, sick with bubonic plague, and was canonized by Boniface VIII in 1297.


Two hundred years of hard fighting produced a series of changes in Europe. In the first place, the feudal lords lost power, because in order to arm the Crusaders they fell heavily into debt. As the crusades failed, their fortunes dwindled.
On the other hand, the crusades caused an intense movement of people in the Mediterranean, which returned to this sea the important role it had played in communications.
Trade between East and West gained momentum, and the Italian ports of Genoa and Venice, which had benefited from Crusader shipping, increased their business tremendously.
In contrast, many lands in northern Europe were depopulated due to the departure of their inhabitants.