World Chronology, Lesson 34. The Crusades (1095 – 1270 AD)

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Throughout this course, we have studied the history of God’s work in the world and man’s response to it. Really, that is what history boils down to. However, we must remember that there is a third influence in human history and that is the devil with all of his demons. Yes, I know that in the modern age of science and technology that may sound silly and outdated, but that is proof that we have greatly erred as humans in being wrapped in things that cause us to become unaware of the devil’s influence in our lives. After all, if we do not take thought of the devil’s role in our daily experiences, we will misinterpret them all and have a very warped idea of who we are, why things happen as they do, and what the end of all these things will be. St. Peter warned us in his epistle,

“Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.”

If we attribute to men all the events of human history, we will make good men appear to be better than they were and bad men to be worse than they were. The good deeds of men were inspired by the grace of God, working through His divine Spirit in them, or in other men around them. The evil deeds of men were influenced not only by their own sinful desires but also by the desires and pressures of other men and, most of all, by the subtle temptations and snares of the devil.

We have already seen many evil men and teachings in our study of history, but the coming of Christ and the creation of the Catholic Church would not mark the end of such troubles. The devil is still alive and active, with all of history as his own personal experience, meaning that he is more crafty than ever.

The Rise of Islam

In the 6th century of Christ’s kingdom, the religion known today as Islam was created. A pious Arabian man named Mohammed, born in 570 AD, claimed that he received a message from the angel Gabriel and that God had appointed him as the prophet of a new religious system that would unite the Arabian tribes and bring them glory. While this is not the place for a detailed discussion of the religion, it is enough to understand that as God raised up the children of Israel as His chosen people in the Old Covenant, so Mohammed raised up his own people, the Arabs, through Islam. The followers of Islam, called “Muslims”, worship the Creator, and God of Abraham, but believe that Abraham’s first son Ishmael (born to his slave Hagar) is the son of blessing and not Isaac, who was his second son, but the son of his wife, Sarah. Thus, Islam is related to Judaism and Christianity, but honors the Arabian patriarch Ishmael, rather than the Jewish patriarch, Isaac. All of Arabia, for obvious reasons on earth, embraced Islam and it became one of the world’s most popular religions. Muslims filled all of Arabia, and slowly moved north and west, reaching as far as Europe. Remember, it was against these Muslims (called “Moors” in the Middle Ages) that Charlemagne and the Franks fought in the 9th century. It was Charlemagne who prevented Islam from taking over Europe and making Europe a Christian continent.

In those places in the Middle East where Christians, Jews and Muslims dwelt together, you can imagine that life was very uncomfortable. The Jews believed that Christianity and Islam were false religions that God had allowed to grow in order to bring the Gentiles to the true Jewish faith in time to come. The Christians believed that Judaism was a temporary phase of God’s revelation and that Jews must fulfill their religion by becoming Christians. They believed that Muslims were following a false prophet who led them away from their true Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. The Muslims believed that the Jews and Christians were fellow believers in the one true God (whom they called Allah), but that they lived in disobedience to Allah’s commands through Mohammed. When these men were focused on their own lives and business, they were normally able to live together in peace. However, it took only a zealous leader to stir up strife between them, or do some foolish thing that incited a fight, to end that peace–which could never be more than shaky.

This is what happened in 1009, when a Muslim leader called for the destruction of what Christians considered one of the holiest places in the world–the Holy Sepulchre–the burial place of Our Lord’s body.


In our last lesson we learned about the Great Schism that divided eastern (Greek) from western (Latin) Christendom and spoke of the unity of the Latin Christians under the Pope. In the 11th century, Europe was a continent divided into a great number of small independent states with rulers who were eager to make their states greater. Regardless of their differences in earthly business, the Christians were united in faith and one of the most cherished traditions among Christians was pilgrimage. Christians of the west regularly traveled to the ancient Christian holy places of the east in Syria, Israel and Egypt. Some went to gain some spiritual gift through venerating the saints and martyrs, some traveled as a penitential exercise, some traveled to begin new lives in the east as hermits and monks.

As Islam rose in power, however, the holy places became endangered and the ability for Christians to travel freely in the east was lost. In 800, when Charlemagne was crowned as ruler of the Holy Roman Empire and of the Franks, he was also named the protector of the Holy Sepulchre and defender of the holy lands in the east. Christians sent alms to the eastern Christians, and built churches and monasteries which served the Christian religion in the area and welcomed pilgrims from the west. In 1009, as mentioned above, a Muslim leader called for the destruction of Christian holy places in Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre in particular. Pilgrimage then became very dangerous and Christians were often persecuted in the east. That did not stop them from making the journey, though, and tension built between Christians and Muslims. The Holy Sepulchre was the most holy of all relics and the Christians would not let danger keep them from it.

The First Crusade (1095-1101)

In 1065, things got worse for the Christians. A Muslim tribe from the east known as the Turks rose to power and took control of the cities that were controlled by the friendlier Saracens. When this change in power took place, the Christians came under persecution throughout the holy lands. The power of the Turks was growing and reached Constantinople. By 1094, all of the ancient eastern centers of Christianity had come under the control of the Turks. The eastern emperors at Constantinople called to the western Christians for help, while at the same time refusing to be united with the Catholic Church.

Seeing the dangers that the Christians faced in the east, and eager to protect the sacred things of the Christian people in the east, Pope Urban II traveled into France and called a council of Christians and Church leaders at Clermont. There, on November 27, 1095, the Holy Father, called all Christians to take up the sword in the service of their divine Lord and fight for the safety and honor of the Holy Sepulchre. Those Christians who accepted the Pope’s call to Crusade vowed their service to God and were marked with red crosses stitched to their shoulders. These were the Church’s Crusaders and to the east they marched.

Throughout Europe, Catholic men were sent to preach Crusade and call men to the service of the Church. Among the most famous of these preachers was Peter the Hermit, who was sent by the Pope himself. His preaching was very successful and with one German noble, he raised a very large army. Now, these men were not necessarily holy men. The barbarian spirit of the European tribes remained in many who had not yet been made gentle by the teachings of Christ. When the Crusade, then, was called, many barbaric men joined the ranks of crusaders and went forth as barbarian tribes had done before–plundering and killing as they willed, not as God willed. Many people today, especially non-Catholics, ignore the fact that the armies were made up of both good and bad man, and try to attribute everything done to the Church! The reality was that many men saw the Crusade as an opportunity to become wealthy through war and the poor and uncivilized took advantage of the opportunity. After entering the east, the men who followed Peter the Hermit were slaughtered by the Turks, surely God’s punishment for their plundering.

In Europe, what may be more rightly called “an army” was being assembled. Around 1097, leaders from France, Germany and Italy agreed to meet at Constantinople and move forward together as an orderly and disciplined army. The emperor of Constantinople was terrified by the sight of the western Christian armies gathering, but agreed to transport them to the east in exchange for their promise of peace.

The Crusaders began their conquest of the east by taking back control of the great cities such as Antioch. Helped by miraculous events and support coming by sea from Europe during the fighting, the Crusaders took control of Jerusalem back from the Turks. Unfortunately, whlie the western Christians fought to rescue the holy places, the emperor of Constantinople thought of nothing but his own power, trying to take back Antioch from the Crusaders while they fought for Jerusalem! Regardless of the selfishness of the eastern emperor, the Christians established control of the land from the Euphrates to Egypt and, while Muslim Turks still held many cities within that land, the area was under Christian control. The land was divided into four regions, the most important of which was the kingdom of Jerusalem. As the Christians established power there, they were able to build local armies capable of defending the holy places. These armies included the famous Christian military orders, the Templars and, later, the Hospitallers.

The Templars

The Templars (see right) formed after the victory at Jerusalem when, instead of returning home, they vowed to defend the city from future harm from the Turks. These men took the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, as well as a vow to defend Jerusalem, while also living according to the Rule of St. Benedict. It was not merely a group of soldiers, but a true religious order whose main focus was defending Jerusalem on behalf of the Church. The Templars answered directly to the Pope himself and were given great assistance from the Church for their important and sacrificial work. Their voluntary poverty and toughness made them fearless in the face of death and their hope of eternal life gave them limitless courage in battle. While their efforts were not always granted worldly success, almost 20,000 Templars gave theirs lives for God’s Church in war, many of whom refused to deny Christ while being tortured and died as victorious martyrs.

Unfortunately, the fearless deaths of the Templars had a bad effect on their order. Standards for admitting new members to the order were lowered and eventually men were able to enter who were not holy at all. The order degenerated from a holy and virtuous band of saints to a band of less-than-holy men who were simply carrying out military commands. The Templars became very, very wealthy, owning thousands of estates and keeping enormous treasures inside their temples. The order became corrupted and the desire for power replaced their original poverty and heavenly-minded service of the Holy Father.

The Hospitallers

The Hospitallers (see right) were men who fought for the Hospital of St. John the Baptist in Jerusalem, where pilgrims were housed and cared for before and after the wars. A “hospital” in the medieval world should not be confused with a modern hospital, but was a simple place where Christian travelers could find lodging overnight and protection from any dangers along the way. However, as time went on, these places did become more and more like modern hospitals in that many–even thousands–of sick were brought to them for care and treatment.

While the focus of the first Hospitallers was the works of mercy, as life in the Middle East became more dangerous, the need for defense and protection became necessary. So, the Hospitallers added to their number armed men who provided that protection. The Hospitallers, like the Templars, became a military order.

Early on in the Crusades, the Templars and Hospitallers stood side-by-side in the battle for Jerusalem. However, as the Templars grew less and less faithful to their original rule of life, the Hospitallers often had to oppose the Templars just as much as they did the Turks. Nevertheless, the kingdom of Jerusalem was secured and Christian states developed in the east, some of which were as well-organized and prosperous as many in Europe. The First Crusade was a great success for the Christians.

The Second Crusade (1145-1147)

While we should admire the bravery and sacrifice of the Crusaders in offering their lives to rescue Jerusalem and other holy places from the Turks, we must also realize that the Christian states, which were formed in the midst of so many hateful enemies, could not stay out of trouble for long. Worse, the emperor of Constantinople chose to use this difficult time to see his own benefit and, with an army, demanded that the Crusaders give him Antioch. With enemies to hold off all around, the Crusaders could not afford to start a war with Constantinople. Nevertheless, one of the leaders of the Christian army attempted to humble the emperor of Constantinople but could not do so without causing more trouble than he could handle at that time. So, as Antioch was taken back by Constantinople, another important Christian state in the east was lost and the Crusaders were very upset.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, hearing of the events back home in Europe, called upon the Christians to rise up and march to the aid of their brothers at war. King Louis VII of France answered the call and raised a great army. Bernard continued to preach Crusade throughout Europe and gathered the help of other Christian leaders. The selfishness of the emperor of Constantinople was putting the Crusade in great danger of failure and men were needed to hurry to prevent losses.

At this time, the king of Jerusalem, Amalric, tried unsuccessfully to attack and take control of Egypt. As he did so, a terrible enemy rose to power in Egypt: Saladin (sah-lah-DEEN). Saladin took control of Egypt and went on to conquer Christian states all around Jerusalem in the east. When Amalric died, Jerusalem was surrounded by states that had come under Saladin’s power and the Christians chose to fight over who would control Jerusalem, rather than how they would resist Saladin. In the end, the Christisn army came up against Saladin in disorder and without discipline. In 1187, Saladin attacked Jerusalem and annihilated the Christians there. Once again, the principle was proven: A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.

The Third Crusade (1188-1192)

At this time, all of the Muslim armies were united under Saladin and the Christians were looking at increasing pressure from the south and east. Pope Gregory VIII, realizing that the political divisions within Christendom were putting all Christians in danger, called all Christian princes to end their quarrels and unite as one people under the Cross–and they did. Christians princes that had been at odds settled their disputes and prepared for war. Led by the German king Frederick Barbarossa, the Crusaders returned to the east with a very great army. In 1189, after Barbarossa tragically drowned while crossing a river, all of the Christian forces gathered at the city of St. Jean d’Acre, joined by the king of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan, and besieged the city for two years.

However, coming to the aid of the city was Saladin and troops from Egypt. It is said that he was able to communicate with those inside the city by sending messages carried by pigeons over the city walls from a distance. The winters and rains punished the Crusaders and caused them to lose many men to disease. However, it was at that time, in 1191 that Philip Augustus (king of France) and Richard the Lionheart (king of England) arrived and forced the city to surrender. The king of France shortly left and King Richard took command of the Crusade. Saladin tried to break the treaty that was made and King Richard executed all of the Muslim prisoners as punishment for that treachery. King Richard humbled the Muslims and because infamous among them as a brilliant leader and heroic enemy. The third crusade was, then, a great success for the Christians.

The Fourth Crusade (1204)

In 1198, a new Pope, Innocent III, was set by Our Lord in the chair of St. Peter. The Holy Father declared that the recapture of Jerusalem and rescue of the holy lands were to be the focus and aim of all Catholics, calling all of his people to join the Crusades. The people responded with great enthusiasm, but the result was very strange. Rather than follow the command of the Holy Father, leaders of the Crusade called for the capture of Constantinople. This was not the intention of the Pope, but we can understand clearly why, in light of Constantinople’s selfish behavior in the past Crusades, the Crusaders would want to punish this menace and bring the great city onto the side of the western Christians. The Crusaders did, in fact, take the city by siege, and after leaders in the city failed to fulfill the promises they had made to the Crusaders, the Crusaders took matters into their own hands, plundering the city’s churches and palaces. The Holy Father, who had not in any way ordered or approved of this invasion, hoped that somehow the eastern and western Christian forces could unite against the Moors finally realized that no such unity was possible. Rather than continue to the east, the Pope called upon western Christians to take up the Cross against several different enemies in England, France, Spain and Prussia.

The Fifth & Sixth Crusades (1217-1229)

The Fourth Lateran Council was called by Pope Innocent III in 1215 and all Catholics were again called by the Pope to join in the Crusade. He would not live to see any such event, dying in 1216.

By the 13th century, though, the zeal of Christians for Crusade was all but gone. It was no longer thought to be the exciting, heavenly battle that it was thought to be 100 years earlier. Rulers understood that these wars in the east were constantly undone by distrust among Christian leaders who always had one eye on the Holy Land and one eye on their lands and possessions back home. As this new Crusade was called, the Crusaders that answered the call marched into the east and conquered a city of Damietta on the northern tip of the Nile Delta in Egypt. However, as soon as the victory was won, the quarreling among Christians allowed the Saracens to surround them. The Christian army was routed by the enemy in 1221, which we will count as the fifth Crusade.

In 1215, Frederick II took vows not only go to on Crusade but to lead the Crusade into Egypt, but did not fulfill that vow until 1227–after the army had already been destroyed in Egypt. Because of his failure to fulfill his vow, he was excommunicated by Pope Gregory IX. Frederick chose, however, to go anyway, but to deal peaceably with the enemy and not to fight against them. He married into the family of the king of Jerusalem and was successful in making a treaty with Muslim leaders that restored the holy cities Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth to the Christians. He was restored to the Church by the Holy Father and in 1229 was crowned king of Jerusalem, which we shall consider to be the sixth Crusade.

The Seventh & Eighth Crusades (1249-1270)

In 1241, a new force arrived in eastern Europe. The Mongols, led by their famous chief Genghis Khan, conquered the peoples of eastern Europe and central Asia, forcing peoples to flee south before him. As this emigration of peoples moved south, one group took control of Jerusalem in 1244. News of this trouble came to the Church in Europe, and the Pope summoned help from the kings of Europe, but was answered by only one: King Louis IX of France. The Church made efforts to befriend the Mongols and sent a Franciscan and Dominican to speak to them on behalf of the Church. King Louis appeared to have made peace with the Mongols and invaded Egypt in 1248. After again taking control of Damietta for the Christians, King Louis’ army was defeated in Egypt and he was taken prisoner. He was released from captivity, but stayed in the east to ransom other Christian captives and strengthen, with his resources, Christian strongholds. King Louis was forced to return to France shortly thereafter when his mother died, who had been ruling France in his place. We will count this as the seventh Crusade.

By the late 1250s, the Christian centers in the east had no more support from the west and the entire area was in chaos. The idea of “Crusade” was no longer of interest to any in the west except those who truly loved the Church and considered the kingdom of heaven more important than their kingdoms on earth. The control of Constantinople was lost. The Mongols began capturing important sites in Palestine. Saladin’s family was overcome by another, which brutally attacked Christian cities in the 1260s. Regardless of the unpopularity of the Crusades at this point, King Louis IX was prepared to fight for Christ and His Church. Unfortunately, St. Louis and many of his men were struck by a plague while at Carthage and were removed from the battle. The king’s brother, Charles Anjou, one of the most powerful men in all of Christendom, made treaties with the Muslims and pursued opportunities for power that were available to him, but by 1291, all efforts had failed and no Christian states remained in the east.


By the end of the 13th century, the Catholic Church realized that war would never bring peace to the Middle East. At that time, the Church realized that the only way that the east might be won would be through evangelization and, therefore, the Church established schools for the study of the eastern languages and send its missionaries–the Franciscans and Dominicans–to go into the world and make disciples. Missionaries moved all through the east, translating Catholic literature into eastern languages and slowly converted the people and established monasteries as lighthouses in those dark places. In Europe the political power of the Pope began to decrease as the rulers of individual kingdoms became selfishly consumed with enriching themselves. As we continue the study of World History in future lessons, we will see how the Crusades influenced the future of Christianity and the troubles that this national selfishness would soon produce. Terrible things were to come to the Church through this spirit of Nationalism–and the seeds were now sown.

Memory Work

  • The Ancient World (4000 BC – 750 BC)
  • Ancient Egypt begins (3000 BC)
  • Life of Noah (2950 BC – 2000 BC)
  • Life of Abraham (2000 BC – 1780 BC)
  • Hebrew Exodus (1450 BC – 1410 BC)
  • Trojan War (1200 BC)
  • Life of King David (1000 BC – 960 BC)
  • The Temple of Solomon (circa 960 BC)
  • City of Rome Founded (753 BC)
  • Homer Writes the Illiad & Odyssey (750 BC)
  • The Classical World (750 BC – 500 AD)
  • Assyrian Captivity (722 BC)
  • The Prophet Daniel in Babylon (600 BC – 535 BC)
  • Babylonian Captivity (586 BC)
  • Esdras the Scribe (530-450 BC)
  • The Roman Republic (509-31 BC)
  • Classical Greece (480 – 323 BC)
  • Conquests of Alexander the Great (336 – 323 BC)
  • The Hellenistic World (323 – 146 BC)
  • The Punic Wars (264 – 146 BC)
  • The Life of Julius Caesar (100 – 44 BC)
  • The Roman Empire (27 BC – 476 AD)
  • The Life of Jesus Christ (5BC – 33 AD)
  • The Christian Church Founded (33 AD)
  • The Destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD)
  • The New Testament (50 – 100 AD)
  • Constantine & the Edict of Milan (313 AD)
  • Nicene Creed (324 AD)
  • Edict of Thessalonica (380 AD)
  • Roman Empire Splits (395 AD)
  • The Fall of Rome (476 AD)
  • Life of St. Benedict (480 – 547 AD)
  •  The Medieval World (500 AD – 1500 AD)
  • Writing of Rule of St. Benedict  (530 AD)
  • Charlemagne Crowned Holy Roman Emperor  (800 AD)
  • Charlemagne Dies  (814 AD)
  • Viking Attack on Lindisfarne  (793 AD)
  • Normans Established  (911 AD)
  • First Crusade  (1095 AD)
  • Second Crusade  (1145 AD)
  • Third Crusade  (1188 AD)
  • Fourth Crusade  (1204 AD)
  • Fifth-Eighth Crusades  (1217-1270)
  • Norman Conquest (1066 AD)
  •  The Modern World (1500 AD – present)

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