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The Crusades

The Crusades is the name given to a series of military expeditions, which spanned the eleventh to the thirteenth century, organized by western Christendom to recover the holy land of Palestine from the Muslims.

As the reader can see from these accounts the attorcities commiitted on the Christian side were anything but "Christian". The total number of deaths due to the crusades had been estimated at around nine million, at least half of which were Christians. [1] Many of these were simply innocent civilians caught in the carnage.

The term "crusade" had somehow, ironically, sunk into the western psyche as a "good" thing. The word when used, has a positive connotation: for example, praises are sung for a "crusading politician" for attempting to eradicate, say, the drug abuse problems in the inner cities. Yet we can see that the crusades, torn from the myths western Christendom had endowed them with, were prime examples of religious cruelty. The crusades brought forth the true character of the Christians: intolerant, unforgiving and with an utter lack of respect for human life. No trace of the much touted "Christian" virtues of love and forgiveness can be seen in these campaigns.

The First Crusade

When Jerusalem first fell to the Arab Muslims in 638, [2] Christian pilgrims were given more or less free access to the holy land. However things took a turn for the worse when the city fell to the Seljuks (Muslim Turks) in 1071.[3] The Seljuks were less tolerant of Christian pilgrims than the Arabs. When stories of cruelties inflicted by the Seljuks on the pilgrims began to circulate in Europe, preparations began to be made to recapture the holy land. [4]

In 1095, Pope Urban II (c1042-1099) proclaimed the First Crusade (1095-1099) at the Council of Clermont. One of the main objective of this crusade was to secure the free access to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims.

The initial force was led by the "unwashed priest" Peter the Hermit (c1050-1115). His "army" consisted mainly of French and German peasants, drawn to the cause by the pope's promise of indulgences. [a] This, they take to mean the freedom to commit any sin they like. They lost no time in taking advantage of these indulgences. On their way through Europe to the holy land, they massacred, tortured and plundered any Jew they could find. [b] They stole and robbed whenever they felt like it. For those places who tried to defend themselves against this pillage, Peter's answer was war. In one such battle in Yugoslavia, the crusaders slaughtered 4,000 of the local residents who dared to fight back.

Many of Peter's men died before they even reach Asia. Many more were sold as slaves to pay for food for the rest. In the end only seven thousand managed to reach Asiatic soil. When they finally encountered the Turks in Nicaea, the ensuing battle was a mismatch. The Christian army was routed. About four thousand of them were killed in the battle. All in all, a total of 300,000 Christians died during this march led by Peter the Hermit. [5]

A more organized force followed, led by Godfrey of Bouillon (c1060-1100). This army successfully defeated the Turks at Dorylaeum in 1097. Antioch was captured in 1098 and Jerusalem fell in 1099, thus founding the Christian kingdom of Palestine. While the military campaign was a success, the behavior of the Christian army certainly did not win them any new converts.

When the crusaders were attacking Antioch, they used the heads of slain Turks as ammunition for their primitive cannons. Apart from using the heads as ammunition, about three hundred head were placed on stakes in front of the city to demoralize the defenders of the city. The crusaders finally broke through and slaughtered the inhabitants.

Then another Muslim army arrived and besieged the now "Christian" city. After a long seige, something strange happened. Convinced that God was on their side (apparently one of the crusaders, enlightened by numerous visions, found the holy lance that pierced Jesus side during the crucifixion [John 19:34]), surged out from the city to kill the infidels. The Muslims, in panic, fled, leaving their tents and wives behind. The Muslim women were mercilessly exterminated by the victorious Christians. [6]

Their behavior was worse during the siege of Marra. The Christian army resorted to cannibalism; digging up corpses for their own consumption. When they finally entered the city, all adults were murdered, even those who had paid the Christian leader, Bohemond (c1052-1111), large sums of money to spare their lives. The children were sold to the slave market at Antioch. [7]

If Bohemond was cruel, Godfrey's conquest of Jerusalem was barbaric. The crusaders forced their way into Jerusalem on the 15th of July 1099. For the next two days there was ensued a continuous massacre by them of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, both Muslims and Jews. The carnage is preserved for posterity by many eye-witness account. Given below is one taken from Gesta Francorum (The Deeds of the Franks):

The defenders fled along the walls and through the city, and our men pursued them killing and cutting them down as far as Solomon's Temple, where there was such a massacre that our men were wading ankle deep in blood ... Then the crusaders rushed around the whole city, seizing gold and silver, horses and mules, and looting the housing that were full of costly things. Then, rejoicing and weeping from excess of happiness, they all came to worship and give thanks at the sepulchre of our saviour Jesus. Next morning, they went cautiously up the temple roof and attacked the Saracens, both men and women [who had taken refuge there], cutting off their heads with drawn swords ... Our leaders then gave orders that all the Saracen corpses should be thrown outside the city because of the stench, for almost the whole city was full of dead bodies ... such a slaughter of pagans had never been seen or heard of, for they were burned in pyres like pyramids, and none save God alone knows how many they were. [8]

Another eyewitness account, by Raymond of Aguiles, not only corroborates the above account but conveys a sense of his own religious ecstasy at experiencing such a complete and total Christian victory:

Wonderful sights were to be seen. Some of our men (and this was more merciful) cut off the heads of their enemies; others shoot them with arrows, so that they fell from the towers; others tortured them longer by casting them into flames. Piles of heads, hands and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. It was necessary to pick one's way over the bodies of men and horses. But these were small matters compared to what happened at the Temple of Solomon, a place where religious services are normally chanted ... in the temple and the porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. Indeed it was a just and splendid judgement of God that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies. [9]

A total of about 40,000 Muslims were killed in that two-day massacre of Jerusalem. [10] The Jews were murdered along with the Muslims, many were huddled into the synagogues and burned alive. [11] Thus was Jerusalem saved by the Christians from infidel hands. [c]

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The Second Crusade

The Second Crusade (1147-1148) was called by Pope Eugenius III (d.1153) after the Turks recaptured Edessa in 1144. [12] It was preached by the renowned St. Bernard (1090-1153), the abbot of Clairvaux. To Bernard war against infidels was not only justified but holy: "Indeed whether a man dies in bed or in battle, no doubt the death of his saints will be precious in God's sight, but if in battle certainly his death will be more precious." [13] To this abbot, the only workable solution in meeting the challenge of the infidels, or pagans as he called them, was a merciless war: "... it is better to massacre then so that their sword is no longer suspended over the heads of the just." [14] For Bernard, to kill an infidel constitutes a holy act for he said: "The Christian glorifies in the death of a pagan because thereby Christ himself is glorified." [15]

The crusading armies were led by the German Emperor, Conrad III and the French King Louis VII. The German emperor was envious of the eastern half of Christendom, the Byzantines. His army pillaged and plundered with gay abandon once they reach Byzantine territory. On one occasion, when two of his crusaders were killed, a whole monastery of Greek monks were murdered in revenge. The German army, exhausted by the journey and their plundering and looting, was annihilated by the Turks when they reached Dorylaeum in Asia Minor. [16]

The French contingent took the brainless but pious route (legend has it that it was used by Charlemagne himself to reach the holy land) to the Holy Land. The route was long and difficult. When the army reached Attalia, a decision was reached: due to the lack of available ships to the holy land, only the mounted knights and noblemen would sail. The rest, the infantry, the accompanying pilgrims and their wives and children were left to fend for themselves. Betrayed by their Christian lords these people suffered three kinds of fate: their were either killed by the Turks, starved to death or sold into slavery. [17]

Militarily the second crusade was a complete fiasco for the Christians. Upon reaching the holy land, the crusaders started a siege on Damascus. The siege was ill planned and badly executed. The crusaders suffered heavy losses and achieved nothing. [18]

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The Third Crusades

The Third Crusade (1189-1192) was launched when the Muslims, under Saladin (1138-1193) recaptured Jerusalem in 1187. The Christian armies were led by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I (1123-1190), the kings of France, Philip II (1165-1223) and England, Richard I (1157-1199). Due to internal rivalries, they were unable to capture Jerusalem. Richard managed to capture Acre in 1191 and to secure an agreement with Saladin which gave Christian pilgrims free access to Jerusalem. [19]

An event which happened in Acre should be documented here. After capturing Acre, Richard found the cost of keeping 2700 Muslim prisoners of war, which included women and children, too heavy a burden for him to bear. He had them all taken out of the Acre city walls and murdered in cold blood. [20] The crusaders then cut open the corpses to look for swallowed gems. The chronicler Ambroise , wrote with exulted: "They were slaughtered, every one. For this be the Creator blessed!" [21]

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The Fourth Crusade

The Fourth Crusade (1201-1204) was not fought against the Muslims, instead, the crusaders sacked Constantinople, the capital of eastern Christendom! The crusaders, who had always looked at the Greek Christians with envy and a sense of inferiority, attacked Constantinople on the 6th of April 1201. Ten days later the city defences fell and the crusaders marched in. The Byzantine Emperor Alexius III (c1180-1222) was deposed and the city was ransacked by the crusaders and the Venetian merchants who prompted the expedition. They rushed through the streets, killing, maiming, looting and raping. Even the nuns were not spared; they were raped in their convents. To add insult to injury, the crusaders enthroned a prostitute at the seat of the Patriarch. The enormous wealth of the city was plundered by the crusaders and the Venetian merchants.

Pope Innocent III (1160-1216), far from condemning the behavior of the crusaders, rejoiced over this victory over the Eastern Church which had so far refused to accept the primacy of his office. The sack of Constantinople was a crime that was to remain in the memory of the Eastern Orthodox Churches for as long as they exist. [22]

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The Children's Crusade

The remaining four crusades were largely unsuccessful. However another crusade worth mentioning was the so-called Children's Crusade (1212). A group of about 30,000 French and German children, led by the boy Stephen, marched through France with the intention of recapturing Jerusalem. Most of the children died in the march and only about 5,000 made it to Marseille. The children were then promised by the merchants there that they would be shipped free of charge to the holy land. The unscrupulous merchants actually shipped the children to Algiers and Alexandria where they were sold as slaves. [23]

With the fall of the last Christian city in the holy land, Acre in 1291, the era of the crusades came to an end.

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a.An indulgence permits lesser punishment in purgatory for sin committed.
b.We provide a fuller account of the treatment of the Jews by Christians later.
c.In a way, the crusaders were very much like Joshua when he conquered the lands of Canaan for the Israelites. He too slaughtered his enemies and showed no mercy towards them (Joshua 6:21; 8:22,25-26; 10:10,20, 26,28,30).


1.Robertson, History of Christianity: p168
2.Roberts, History of the World: p322
3.Rosenbaum, Desk Concord Encyclopedia: p342
4.Roberts, History of the World: p362
Robertson, History of Christianity: p166
5.Haught, Holy Horrors: p19-22
Livingstone, Dictionary of the Church: p137
Robertson, History of Christianity: p166
Rosenbaum, Desk Concord Encyclopedia: p342
6.Armstrong, Holy War: p171
Haught, Holy Horrors: p22-24
Robertson, History of Christianity: p166-167
7.Ibid: p167
8.Knight, Honest to Man: p82-83
9.Armstrong, Holy War: p178-179
10.Ibid: p179
11.Robertson, History of Christianity: p167
12.Sabel & Steele, 1000 Great Events,: p76
13.Armstrong, Holy War: p210
14.Ibid: p210
15.Haught, Holy Horrors: p26
16.Armstrong, Holy War: p216
17.Ibid: p218
Fisher, History of Europe: p245-246
18.Armstrong, Holy War: p221
Fisher, History of Europe: p246
19.Rosenbaum, Desk Concord Encyclopedia: p342
Summerscale, The Penguin Encyclopedia: p158
20.Armstrong, Holy War: p265
23.Haught, Holy Horrors: p26
22.Armstrong, Holy War: p386-387
Roberts, History of the World: p349-350
Summerscale, The Penguin Encyclopedia: p158
23.Robertson, History of Christianity: p168
Rosenbaum, Desk Concord Encyclopedia: p342
Summerscale, The Penguin Encyclopedia: p158

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