Friday, October 23, 2009

The First Crusade

The First Crusade played a very important part in Medieval England. The First Crusade was an attempt to re-capture Jerusalem. After the capture of Jerusalem by the Muslims in 1076, any Christian who wanted to pay a pilgrimage to the city faced a very hard time. Muslim soldiers made Christianity a hard way of life. Muslim soldiers also tried to fill Jerusalem with danger for a Christian. This greatly angered all Christians.

The First Crusade also opened an era in which Western Europe came into direct contact with the great trade routes that united the civilizations of Eurasia. For the first time since the fall of the Roman empire, western Europe was not isolated, but a part of a greater world. Many things flowed along these trade routes. Some were good, such as paper, the compass, medicines and spices, new crops and advances in mathematics. Some were not so good, such as leprosy, gunpowder, and bubonic plague. Like most great events, there were many factors, some immediate and apparent, some basic and apparent, and some in between that went together to cause the people of western Europe to seek to conquest and hold the lands of the Eastern Mediterranean.

One of the causes of the First Crusade was that Europe was already in a period of expansion, and its capacity for war and conquest had grown during the years of fending off raiders from all direction. Most importantly from the standpoint of the crusades, the Italian city states had developed navies of merchant/fighting vessels that had seized control of the Mediterranean. They had reconquered Sicily and southern Italy from the Muslims, and there was a general sense that, like the Vikings and Magyars, the force of the Muslims was spent and that the way eastward lay open.

Another cause of the First Crusade was the spirit of religious reform that had led to the Investiture Controversy had been accompanied by an increase in popular spirituality. People were no longer to accept their religion passively; many wanted to participate actively and to do something positive in honor of their god. (Book Internet)

One of the major causes of the First Crusade was since their victory at the Battle of Manziker, the Seljuk Turks had been pressing towards Constantinople and were now actually within sight of the city.

"The leaders of the First Crusade included some of the most distinguished representatives of European knighthood. Count Raymond of Toulouse headed a band of volunteers from Provence in southern France. Godfrey of Bouillon and his brother Baldwin commanded a force of French and Germans from the Rhinelands. Normandy sent Robert, William the Conqueror's eldest son. The Normans from Italy and Sicily were led by Bohemond, a son of Robert Guiscard, and his nephew Tancred."

The months which followed the Council of Clermont were marked by an epidemic of religious excitement in western Europe. Popular preachers everywhere took up the cry "God wills it!" and urged their hearers to start for Jerusalem. A monk named Peter the Hermit aroused large parts of France with his passionate eloquence, as he rode from town to town, carrying a huge cross before him and preaching to vast crowds. a horde of poor men, women, and children set out, unorganized and almost unarmed, on the road to the Holy Land. This was called the Peoples Crusade, it is also referred to as the Peasants Crusade. Dividing command of the mixed multitudes with a poor knight, called Walter the Penniless, and followed by a throng of about 80,000 persons, among whom were many women and children, Peter the Hermit set out for Constantinople leading the Peoples Crusade via an overland route through Germany and Hungary. Thousands of the Peoples Crusade fell in battle with the natives of the countries through which they marched, and thousands more perished miserably of hunger and exposure. The Peoples Crusade was badly organised - most of the people were unarmed and lacked the command and discipline of the military crusaders. The Byzantium emperor Alexius I sent his ragged allies as quickly as possible to Asia Minor, where most of them were slaughtered by the Turks. The daughter of Alexius, called Anna Comnena wrote a book about her father and the crusaders called the Alexiad which provides historical details about the first crusaders. Those crusaders who crossed the Bosphorus were surprised by the Turks, and almost all of the Peoples Crusade were slaughtered. Peter the Hermit did survive and eventually led the Crusaders in a procession around the walls of Jerusalem just before the city was taken.

Meanwhile real armies were gathering in the West. Recruits came in greater numbers from France than from any other country, a circumstance which resulted in the crusaders being generally called "Franks" by their Moslem foes. They had no single commander, but each contingent set out for Constantinople by its own route and at its own time.

The crusaders traversed Europe by different routes and reassembled at Constantinople. Crossing the Bosphorus, they first captured Nicaea, the Turkish capital, in Bithynia, and then set out across Asia Minor for Syria. Arriving at Antioch, the survivors captured that place, and then, after some delays, pushed on towards Jerusalem. The Siege of Antioch had lasted from October 1097 to June 1098. Reduced now to perhaps one-fourth of their original numbers, the crusaders advanced slowly to the city which formed the goal of all their efforts. When at length the Holy City burst upon their view, a perfect delirium of joy seized the crusaders. They embraced one another with tears of joy, and even embraced and kissed the ground on which they stood. As they passed on, they took off their shoes, and marched with uncovered head and bare feet, singing the words of the prophet: "Jerusalem, lift up thine eyes, and behold the liberator who comes to break thy chains." Before attacking it they marched barefoot in religious procession around the walls, with Peter the Hermit at their head. Then came the grand assault. The first assault made by the Christians upon the walls of the city was repulsed; but the second was successful, and the city was in the hands of the crusaders by July 1099. Godfrey of Bouillon and Tancred were among the first to mount the ramparts. Once inside the city, the crusaders massacred their enemies without mercy. A terrible slaughter of the infidels took place. For seven days the carnage went on, at the end of which time scarcely any of the Moslem faith were left alive. The Christians took possession of the houses and property of the infidels, each soldier having a right to that which he had first seized and placed his mark upon. (Book Internet)

"Against all odds, the first armed pilgrimage to the Holy Land was successful, and the Christians captured Jerusalem in 1100. They benefitted from the disunity among the Muslims and set up the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Although it was only ninety years before the Muslims had reorganized and taken back most of what they had lost, the effect of the crusaders' success was great. A heightened sense of confidence animated the Europeans and, with new influences from the East, culture and intellectual life flourished. Western Europe, so some historians hold, came of age."