In November of 1095 for 10 days pope Urban II held the council of Clermont at Auvergne which culminated in the pope calling onto the Frankish knights for armed expedition into the Levant with the aim of freeing Jerusalem and the tomb of Christ from the grasps of Islamic rule, when the pope finished his speech the representative of the expedition Adhemar of Monteil was the first to carry the cross to the sound of the crowd shouting Deus vult!(Riley-Smith,2001).
The apocalyptic coming of a millennium signified the increase in pilgrimage from Europe to the holy land which continued on even until the year 1099, those apocalyptic concerns were fueled by the pope’s promise of salvation in the form of sin’s being absolved, Other more hidden reasonings were that of violence and greed which was clearly observed from the actions perpetrated by the crusaders unto the Jews in Europe before the crusades even began such as seizing Jewish property, massacring Jewish families and stealing their material wealth(Throop,2018).
The more obvious reason for the crusades was the landgrab of most of Anatolia at the hands of the Seljuks under Kilij Arslan which gave rise to fears over the loss of Constantinople which was under the rule of the Byzantines whom its emperor Alexios I comnenos requested aid from the catholic church, The victory at constantinople Motivated the crusaders to take to Jerusalem in which they were victorious again (Tyerman,2008).
The crusaders gathered in Constantinople from many nations amongst these nations were the people of Germania,Lotharingia,Swabia,Bavarai,Brittany,Ghaul and Normandy. In general the crusaders were generally gathered from the Rhine to the Atlantic and from the Mediterranean to the Denmark (Tyerman,2008).
A shared treasury was created to raise money for militaristic projects and weapons such as siege towers and mangonels (Tyerman,2008). The princes and leaders of the crusade had a degree of independence from each other and were free to command their units as pleased in accordance with the other factions (Tyerman,2008). The first wave was led by peter the hermit in the year 1096 from Germany unto the Danube passing through the Balkans reaching Constantinople with a force of 20 thousand Europeans some of which weren’t combatants (Tyerman,2008).
Many atrocities were committed by the crusaders an example of which is when peter the hermit passed through Trier in which he forced the Jews of Trier to pay for their cause supplemented by a letter of approval from Frankish Jews, another incident occurring in the same journey was when peter passed through cologne, he threatened and pressured the Jews of that town into supporting the crusader cause financially. After that when peter reached the Danube it is reported that he ordered to forcibly baptize the Jews of that town, at the same time it is said that peter convinced another faction to kill many of the Jews of Munich (Tyerman,2008). Of course these atrocities were only the beginning of the first wave of the first crusade meaning that they only formed a minuscule amount of the atrocities to come in the following crusades of which there are 9 in total spanning a timeframe of approximately 200 years from 1096 to the fall of Arwad in 1302.
Although contested by some scholars the crusades had more negative aspects than positive ones such as the amount of bloodshed, avarice and lies of salvation along with other unexpected consequences an example of which is the spread of diseases and the impact that the crusades served on the Islamic-Christian debate and our modern world which carries on even until now.
The need to examine the negative sides of the crusades as to confront it and learn from it so that such mistakes based upon discrimination and avarice would never be repeated by an individual or a group.
In the year of 1099 on a hot summer day the court of al-Mustazher billah hears a loud cry of pain, a man by the name of Ñayad al-Íarawi marches unto the center of the court, like an orator he started lecturing the attendants: ”You sit here enjoying your time eating and drinking while your brothers in Syria find no place to dwell and your sisters therein have hid their faces with their hands in shame, will you rise up to this bloodshed or will you courageous Arabs and Persians stay in silence”(Maalouf,1983).
Such a speech has impressed and touched the hearts of attendants. Nayad has come a long way bringing with him escapees from Jerusalem to the scorching Syrian desert reaching Baghdad as a result of the crusaders sieging Jerusalem (Maalouf,1983).
In the July of 1099 the city of Jerusalem was sieged by the crusaders they were heavily armored committing brutalities from looting homes, scavenging mosques and slaying its inhabitants in the process. After two days had gone by no Muslims were left, some had slipped through the cities gates while the rest laid dead in their own blood, those who were left were either killed or enslaved in the process (Maalouf,1983). The Jews didn’t have much of a different fate as their synagogues were destroyed and their families were burned alive, of those who escaped the they were murdered in the corridors of the city (Maalouf,1983).
It is recounted that the crusaders when first entering the town of Maarat al-Numan committed numerous acts of barbarism this included them placing the people of this region in boiling pots, killing religious leaders, slaughtering entire families, destroying schools and devouring children after impaling them this is an example of the cannibalism that occurred therein as a consequence of the famine that occurred during the siege after that the crusaders went as far as destroying every structure in that town leaving no stones unturned, this was an act of terror that spread fear and hatred amongst the Saracens for a long time to come (Maalouf,1983).
One of the unexpected negative effects that the crusades had was the spread of foreign diseases coming from the west to the east and other diseases transported from the east to the west, this was blamed on the crusaders for returning home with these new diseases after the siege of Jerusalem, it is said that these diseases included Trachoma which is an ancient disease found in the middle east and smallpox which after hundreds of years lead to the devastation of native Americans, other examples include dysentery which was first recorded in 1167 when a crusader drank the water of the Nile, Analysis of the latrines at the headquarters of the Order of St. John in the Kingdom of Jerusalem confirm the transport of this bacteria from Egypt to Acre, other accounts mention scurvy and double terceinne spreading from Egypt to Europe (Mitchell,2011).
The European crusaders have also spread diseases in the Middle East; new archaeological investigations in an old latrine at the city of acre reveal the existence of the roundworms, fish worms and whipworms collected from underneath, these species have not been identified in the east but rather in England and France proving that the crusaders did indeed bring foreign diseases from Europe (Mitchell,2011).
Some may contest the negative impact of the crusades by reminding us of the knowledge and goods that were discovered, transported and implemented in both worlds mainly from the Arab east to the west a couple of examples include the teachings of al-khawarizmi whom the word algorithms comes from, Further examples include the ancient Greek knowledge that was translated and practiced by the Arabs in the form of books and instruments that included astronomy, philosophy (mainly Aristotelian), chemistry, algebra and architecture. This is not only limited to academic knowledge but also encompasses leather-work, textiles and the distillation of alcohol and sugar, the latter which was discovered during the first crusade and deemed as a new spice that came to be of great importance to our modern world (Maalouf,1983). Even though all these discoveries had a positive and major impact on our modern world, the bloodshed and the brutalities that were committed outweigh the positives of the crusades which could have been discovered by trade and the silk road rather than in this brutal and unnecessary manner, these atrocities which still resonate in our modern world.
The crusades had a major effect on our current banking system, as Europeans were losing money (when exchanging currency) they had to innovate a new system in the form of credit notes and the minting of Venetian gold coins in Palestine giving rise to international banking branches especially in Pisa and Genoa (Gada,2017).
The Europeans had also took a likening to the hygienic practices of the east which influenced westerners to implement public baths and latrines in their cities, not only limited to hygienic practices the cuisine, language, dress code and oriental romance novels have also impacted European culture and lifestyle to a great degree(Gada,2017).
The crusades have also helped to finance the church and give rise to the criticism of militarism; they have also increased the reverence of certain Christian characters such as Saint George especially in the siege of Antioch, furthermore many symbols of our current world have been taken from crusader images such as national flags, coat of arms and religious symbols such as that of the sovereign order of Malta(Throop,2015).
It is said that in 1898 the emperor of Germany Kaiser Wilhelm II visited Salah-al-din’s grave and paid to repair it as a sign of reverence to this Islamic leader proving that the crusades still exist in the conscience of many even after centuries of its end in 1302 after the loss of the island of Arwad to the Mamluks (Throop,2015).
One of the long term effects of the crusades manifested in an attack made by a Turkish citizen named Mehmet Ali Agca who attempted to kill pope john paul II in 1981 in which he described the pope as the leader of the crusades, this action proves that the memory of the crusades is still embedded in the minds of the Muslims and is long due to be removed from the memories of Muslims being a natural consequence of the negative effects of the crusades (Maalouf,1983).
The crusades serve as an important influencer in our current world, the scholar Hitti (1985) has said that while the crusades didn’t contribute much to the enlightenment period they left deep wounds in the conscience of Muslims and impacted Syria and Iraq in the form of Sykes-Picot (Gada,2017).
It is then by result that we should uphold the right to individual freedoms especially religion as it is considered personal business based on faith and no one should be forced to change his/her religion, this is mentioned and stressed in article 18 of the declaration of human rights and also includes the right to change one’s religion or be without one.
The essay that I have outlined above serves as an important topic in that it shows the terrible effects of wars based on individual differences (A debate relative to the changes in our current timeline) and their overall impact on the well-being of their contemporaries, In addition it also Sheds light on the unending and continuous battle of civilizations that is still going on.
We have examined the negative sides of the crusades as to confront it and learn from it so that such brutalities based on discrimination and greed would never be repeated by any person or group as these attempts of elimination would only result in more pain and suffering leading to no definitive solution, as such we should reserve ourselves from sectarianism and learn tolerance, taking Saladin and Baldwin IV as role-models whom even when considering the other as an enemy still retained their respect to the other side.
While the crusades had some positive impacts such as the transportation of knowledge, goods and theological notions it mostly had a negative impact, as these benefits could have been discovered by trade rather than wars, such wars which devastated lives and wasted resources resulting in sinful acts which both sides vowed to denounce and the subsequent ruin of their reputation.
I would like to end this essay by a quote from the well-renowned Philosopher David Hume: “The Crusades are the most signal and most durable monument of human folly that has yet appeared in any age or nation.”
- Tyerman, C. (2008). Gods war a new history of the crusades. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press.
- Mitchell, P.D. The spread of disease with the crusades. In: Between Text and Patient: The Medical Enterprise in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Ed. B. Nance and E.F. Glaze. Florence: Sismel 2011, p.309-330.
- Moalouf, A. (1983). The Crusades through Arab eyes. London: Al Sagi Books.
- Riley-Smith, J. S. C. (2001). The Oxford illustrated history of the crusades. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Gada, M. Y. (2017). Rethinking The Impact Of The Crusades On The Muslim-Christian Thought And Development. QIJIS (Qudus International Journal of Islamic Studies), 5(2). doi: 10.21043/qijis.v5i2.2259
- Throop, S. A., Barnwell, T., & Yavuz, N. K. (2018). The crusades: an epitome. Leeds, UK: Kismet Press LLP.
- Throop, S. A. (2015, August). The Impact of the Crusades. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.ursinus.edu/history_fac/2/.