The Crusades were a series of wars that took place between Muslims and Christians. Religion was a primary motivation in these wars, most of which were fought to gain control of the holy city of Jerusalem, which is sacred to both religions.
The first war of the Crusades was launched in 1096 and the final conflict ended in 1291. During this period, the Crusades became a key part of the political ideology of Christian Europe.
For the Muslim world, the Crusades created a need to unite and present a unified front, something which was not fully possible until the rise of Saladin.
The primary reason behind the start of the Crusades was the desire of Christian Europe to gain control of the holy city of Jerusalem. The city was in the control of the Muslim rulers of the Seljuk Empire at the time.
Christian sought to make pilgrimages to the city for penitence. There were also reports that the Seljuk rulers of the city oppressed their Christian subjects.
In the late 11th century, the Seljuk Empire suffered a number of setbacks, and its hold on Jerusalem and the surrounding territories significantly weakened.
This also served as an incentive for European rulers and the Papacy to launch the Crusades in a bid to reclaim the city.
Of the many crusades that took place, four hold the greatest significance. These are the First, Second, Third, and Fourth crusades.
The First Crusades were immensely important as they set the stage for the warfare between Christians and Muslims. The crusaders were able to wrest control of the Seljuk capital in Anatolia, Nicea, and later capture Jerusalem as well.
In the Second Crusade, the crusaders suffered devastating defeats and loss of territory. It was notable for the involvement of Zangi, Seljuk commander, and his son Nur-ud-Din.
The Third Crusade involved Saladin and Richard the Lionheart, and it ended with the capture of Jerusalem by the Muslim forces.
A number of minor crusades also took place with the common aim of fighting for various causes backed or defined by the Church.
The People’s Crusade coincided with the First Crusade and was an attempt by a monk Peter the Hermit of Amiens to lead peasants to Jerusalem. It resulted in the defeat and death of most people involved.
The Peoples crusades are also referred to as the Peasants’ Crusade, Paupers’ Crusade, or the Popular Crusade
The Albigensian Crusade was launched to subdue Albigensian, a Christian sect declared heretical by the Church. The Fifth Crusade involved a failed attempt by the Crusaders to conquer Egypt.
The Sixth Crusade known as the ‘Barons Crusade’ resulted in a brief transfer of Jerusalem back to Crusader forces. The Barons’ Crusade was launched with the full support of the Papacy and regained significant territories in the Holy Land.
Pope Urban II was one of the central figures of the First Crusade. The Byzantine Empire beseeched him to liberate the Holy Land from Seljuk rule. Urban II called upon the European nobility, asking them to capture the Holy Land.
In return, he promised pardons for all the past sins of those who would participate in the Crusade. His appeal proved highly effective and directly helped pave the way for the First Crusade.
Godfrey of Bouillon was one of the most important Crusader leaders in the First Crusade. He played an important role during the Siege of Jerusalem in 1099. When Jerusalem fell, Godfrey became the ruler of the city, establishing the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Saladin was the most important Muslim leader who partook in the Crusades. He defeated the Crusader army at the famous Battle of Hattin in 1187. This victory helped him capture Jerusalem from the Crusaders.
His victory also prompted calls for the Third Crusade which involved Crusaders like Richard the Lionheart. Saladin remains one of the figures most popularly associated with the Crusades and is recorded in history as an emblem of chivalry, piety, and generosity. He also laid the foundations of the Ayyubid dynasty.
Richard the Lionheart was the King of England and a notable figure in the Third Crusade. He came to the Holy Land at a time when Saladin was the main foe of the Crusaders.
Richard fought a number of battles against Saladin and was victorious in most of them. Although he couldn’t capture Jerusalem, he was able to secure a number of territories for the Crusaders through negotiations with Saladin.
Louis VII of France played a significant role in the Second Crusade. He had vowed to partake in the Crusades and to fulfill this vow, he set out towards the Holy Land during the Second Crusade.
En route to the Holy Land, his army was attacked and mostly destroyed by the Turks. He reached the Holy Land in 1148 and participated in the unsuccessful siege of Damascus.
Conrad III of Germany was among the many European rulers and kings who participated in the Crusades. Conrad belonged to the Hohenstaufen dynasty of Germany and decided to participate in the Second Crusade.
He marched through Anatolia to reach the Holy Land and was attacked by Seljuk Turks along the way. Conrad’s army suffered a catastrophic defeat. He later participated in failed attempts to besiege Jerusalem and attack Ascalon.
Raynald of Chatillon was a French noble who became one of the most powerful European barons in the Holy Lands. He served as the regent of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
During the Battle of Montgisard, he defeated Saladin’s army. However, he was notoriously known for attacking caravans, killing innocents, and plundering for booty. Saladin vowed never to forgive him.
After Raynald’s actions necessitated the Battle of Hattin where the Crusader army was decisively defeated, he was captured and then beheaded by Saladin.
Guy de Lusignan was one of the most notable Crusader figures. He reigned as the King of Jerusalem for many years. During his reign, conflict brewed between the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Ayyubids under Saladin.
This conflict ultimately culminated in the
where the Crusaders were defeated and which resulted in the capture of Jerusalem. Guy de Lusignan was captured by Saladin but released a year later.
He later tried to reclaim the city and other territories in the Holy Land but failed despite the support of Richard the Lionheart.
Philip II of France was a King of France who participated in the Third Crusade alongside ‘Richard the Lionheart’. Although he came to participate in the Crusades at a decisive time of conflict between Saladin and the Crusaders, he left soon after successfully besieging Acre. He was taunted by Richard for leaving so soon but he left anyway.
Conrad of Montferrat was an Italian nobleman who served as the King of Jerusalem for a few days. He became king after a heated dispute over the kingship. Richard the Lionheart supported his rival.
Nonetheless, Conrad was elected king with the unanimous support of the barons of Jerusalem. Only a few days after his election, he was assassinated by the Hashshashin. It was alleged that Richard had a part in having him killed but no evidence could be produced.
The Battle of Civetot was fought in 1096. It is significant in that it was one of the earliest battles of the crusades, fought between the people involved in the Peasant’s Crusade and the Seljuk Turks.
Although the Crusaders numbered around 20,000 to the 5,000 Seljuks, they were disorganized, ill-equipped, and comprised mostly of peasantry. The fighting resulted in a routing of the Crusaders who were then massacred in the thousands.
The Siege of Antioch began in late 1097 and came to an end in mid-1098. During the First Crusade, the city of Antioch lay on the marching route of the crusaders. The city was strategically located, so the crusaders decided to capture it before moving forward.
The Muslim commander holding the city tried to withstand the siege and sought relief forces but all efforts failed and the city was ultimately surrendered.
The Siege of Jerusalem was one of the final events of the First Crusade. It took place in July 1099. After subduing most of the surrounding lands, Crusader forces laid siege to the city. The city ultimately fell to the Crusaders, effectively ending the rule of the Fatimids who had previously ruled the city.
The Siege of Lisbon was an important occasion of the Second Crusade. Moorish rulers held the city before the siege and the crusaders besieged it to wrest its control. The siege drew on for several months in 1147 and ultimately ended with the surrender of the city.
The Siege of Damascus was another important event of the Second Crusade. It took place in 1148 when the Crusaders laid siege to the important city of Damascus. Within a week of the siege, Muslim commander Nur-ud-Din Zangi arrived with a relief force and defeated the Crusaders, forcing them to retreat.
This was one of the most decisive battles of the Crusades. The battle took place in 1187 after the Second Crusade had ended. The conflict between Crusader baron Raynald of Chatillon and Saladin erupted into a full-scale war.
The Battle of Hattin was a culmination of this war. Saladin was able to defeat the sizable Crusader army and capture most of its important leaders. He then marched onto Jerusalem and took it from the Crusaders.
Following his decisive victory over the Crusader army in the Battle of Hattin, Saladin and his army marched to Jerusalem. Balian of Ibelin was the chief Crusader leader defending the city.
After a long siege and negotiations, the city was surrendered to Saladin in October 1187 who allowed its inhabitants to peacefully evacuate. This marked the end of the Crusader’s control of Jerusalem.
Although the Crusaders had lost Jerusalem, the so-called Kingdom of Jerusalem still existed in 1189. During this year, the Crusaders marched on Acre and laid siege to it. The city soon fell and it became the new capital of the kingdom. The loss of the city was a notable setback for Saladin.
In 1191, the Battle of Arsuf was fought between the forces of Saladin and Crusader forces under Richard the Lionheart. Richard’s forces were able to defeat Saladin, forcing him to come to terms with Richard. As per these terms, Saladin agreed to recognize Crusader control of many territories in the Holy Land.
During the Fourth Crusade, the Crusader forces ran into disagreements with the Byzantine Emperor. They then laid siege to Constantinople in April 1204. The city fell and was then burned and looted by the Crusaders. This decisively wrecked the Byzantine Empire so that it could never recover from this loss.
The First Crusade took place near the end of the 11th century. It was prompted by a decline in the power of the Fatimids so that it seemed possible for Christian Europe to capture the city of Jerusalem.
Another reason was the requests for help from the Byzantine Empire which was losing ground to the Seljuk Turns in the East.
Fought between the People’s Crusade, which was a part of the First Crusade. The Crusaders were routed by the Turk forces.
The first important success of the Crusaders in the First Crusade. The Crusaders laid siege to the city controlled by Muslims and forced it to surrender in June 1097.
Fought between Seljuk forces and Crusaders. In it, the Seljuk Sultan Kilij Arslan was defeated by the Crusaders who continued their march to Jerusalem.
Took place in 1097. Crusaders besieged the city and captured it, then fought and defeated relief parties from the Muslim camp.
Took place in 1099. It was the culmination of the First Crusade. The Crusaders were able to take the city by force, putting most of its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants to the sword.
was the final notable event of the First Crusade. The Fatimids mustered a sizable army to attack and reclaim Jerusalem. The Crusaders were able to attack the Fatimids suddenly who were taken unawares and fled after a brief fight. This confirmed a secure hold of Crusaders over Jerusalem and other territories in the Holy Land.
Count of Toulouse: Raymond was a powerful French baron and one of the key leaders of the First Crusade. He participated in the sieges of Nicaea and Antioch. He refused to become the king in Jerusalem and also fought in the Battle of Ascalon.
Godfrey of Bouillon was a German baron who participated in the First Crusade, eventually becoming the first ruler in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He ruled for one year from 1099 to 1100 and then died, succeeded by his brother.
Bohemond I was a prince from southern Italy who was among the prominent Crusader leaders in the First Crusade. Bohemond I participated in the key battles and sieges of the Crusade. He was instrumental in securing success in many cases. He was eventually able to carve out a Norman principality in Antioch.
Pope Urban II was the key figure who helped launch the First Crusade. He made speeches and sermons to popularize the cause, calling upon European nobility to join the crusades. He also offered pardons for all who participated in the crusade. His efforts proved decisive in making the Crusades a pan-European cause.
The prior People’s Crusade had failed, however, The Christian Crusader forces from Europe were decisively victorious in the First Crusade. while the Byzantine Empire was able to recover some of its territories at the expense of the Seljuks and Fatimids at the same time.
The First Crusade laid the foundations of a holy war between Muslims and Christians. It would shape the upcoming generations on both sides, imbuing them with a sense of adventurism and war for a holy cause. It would also create a more defined division between Christian Europe and the Muslim world.
After the First Crusade, Zengid Muslim forces began to gain strength in the areas neighboring the Holy Land. To counter the growing power of the Zengids and to wrest back the County of Odessa which they had taken over in 1147 – the Second Crusade was announced by Pope Eugene II.
This Crusade was the first time European kings directly participated in the holy wars. Overall, the Crusade was a failure.
During the Second Crusade, the Crusaders from England were forced to make a stop on the Portuguese coast. There, they agreed to help the Portuguese king attack Lisbon and capture it from the hands of the Moors.
This was a part of the Iberian Reconquista. The siege of Lisbon lasted from July 1147 to October 1147. It resulted in the surrender of Lisbon to Portuguese forces. This was the only notable success of the Crusader cause during the Second Crusade.
The Second Battle of Dorylaeum was fought in October 1147 between the forces of Conrad III of Germany and the Seljuk Turks. Conrad’s forces had separated from the French, intending to reunite with them in the Holy Land.
While marching through Anatolia, his forces were attacked and nearly annihilated by the Seljuks. Conrad himself survived after being wounded.
The other main body of Crusaders under King Louis VII of France came into contact with the Seljuk Turks in January 1148. Like Conrad’s forces, this body was also defeated. Louis VII later continued his journey to Jerusalem by sea but most of his army had to march by land and was mostly destroyed by the harassing Turks.
After what remained of the Crusaders in the wake of the long and hazardous journey, they marched on to Damascus and laid siege to it. However, the resistance of the city and the arrival of relief parties forced the Crusaders to abandon the siege.
Conrad III of Germany was one of the two European kings who participated in the Second Crusade. Conrad marched through Anatolia to reach the Holy Land but his army was mostly destroyed along the way. He later participated in the Siege of Damascus but failed to make any headway.
Louis VII of France was the second European monarch who directly participated in the Second Crusade. He also had his army harassed and defeated along the way to the Holy Land. After the Siege of Damascus failed, he returned to France without having achieved any notable success.
Saint Bernard popularized the cause of the Second Crusade on the behest of Pope Urban II. He met assemblies of princes and monarchs, preaching and encouraging them to join the cause.
In most of the battles fought in the Second Crusade, Muslim forces proved victorious. However, the Crusaders were successful in liberating the city of Lisbon from the Moors.
The Second Crusade’s results showed that Muslim forces were gaining power and becoming united in the areas neighboring Holy Land. The efforts of the Zengids would ultimately give way to the rise of Saladin who defeated the Crusaders and captured Jerusalem, prompting the Third Crusade.
After Saladin had defeated Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin and recaptured Jerusalem, a new effort with the aim of liberating Jerusalem was launched. This was the Third Crusade in which England, France, and the Holy Roman Empire directly participated.
The Crusaders achieved some notable successes in this Crusade but failed to gain control of Jerusalem.
The Battle of Iconium was one of the major early fights of the Third Crusade. It was fought between the forces of Frederick Barbarossa and the Turks.
The battle was fought in May 1190 and resulted in a crushing defeat for the Turks. It also resulted in the loss of the capital city of Sultanate of Rum to the Germans.
In 1189, Crusader forces laid siege to Acre. The siege dragged on as Saladin’s forces laid siege to the besiegers. In 1891, Richard the Lionheart’s forces arrived and played a key role in capturing the city. After failed negotiations with Saladin, Richard put nearly 2,700 Muslim prisoners to the sword.
The Battle of Arsuf was fought in September 1191 as Richard’s forces proceeded with the intent of assaulting Jaffa. Saladin tried to counter Richard’s forces but was defeated in battle with heavy losses. Following up on this success, Richard proceeded and was able to take over Jaffa.
The Battle of Jaffa was fought in 1191 and was one of the final battles of the Third Crusade. Saladin’s forces first attacked the city held by Crusaders and were able to take it. Richard, who was away, arrived with around 2,000 men and was able to take back the city.
Also known as Richard the Lionheart, Richard I of England was the most notable European monarch who participated in the Third Crusade. Richard led the Crusader forces on numerous occasions during the crusade and valiantly fought against the Muslim forces, defeating them a number of times.
He also famously defeated Saladin in battle, although he fell short of wresting back the control of Jerusalem.
Philip II of France was among the three European monarchs who participated in the Third Crusade. He arrived in the Holy Land around the same time as Richard I of England.
However, he left soon afterward without having achieved any notable success. His departure was caused by ill health, disagreements with Richard the Lionheart, and domestic troubles.
Frederick Barbarossa was a Holy Roman Emperor who partook in the Third Crusade. Barbarossa was one of the most charismatic European monarchs of the time and ranked among the greatest emperors of the Holy Roman Empire.
Although he scored several victories against Turk forces in Asia Minor during his march to the Holy Land, he fell from his horse and drowned before he could reach the Holy Land.
Conrad of Montferrat was one of the most important Crusader leaders during the Third Crusade. During the Crusade, he was elected as the King of Jerusalem. However, he lacked the support of Richard I of England and was assassinated soon after his election, possibly at Richard’s instigation.
Balian of Ibelin was a nobleman who was among the key crusader leaders during the Third Crusade. Balian was defending the city of Jerusalem when Saladin besieged it, ultimately giving up the city at favorable terms.
He later participated in the Third Crusade and fought in Richard’s forces. At the end of the Third Crusade, Balian helped negotiate a truce between Richard and Saladin.
The most important leader on the Muslim side during the Third Crusade was Saladin. After the end of the Second Crusade, Saladin had rapidly united Muslim forces under one banner and successfully defeated the Crusaders to take back Jerusalem and most of its lands.
In fact, the Third Crusade was prompted precisely to counter him. During the Crusade, Saladin defeated the Crusader forces a number of times while also suffering occasional defeats, especially in battles with Richard the Lionheart. However, he remained in control of Jerusalem by the time the Third Crusade ended.
The Third Crusade had no clear victors. The Crusaders were able to regain many territories, defeat Muslim forces on many occasions and reassert control along the coastal regions of Palestine.
Saladin, on the other hand, also inflicted some defeats on the Crusaders while retaining Jerusalem. In military terms, the Crusaders had significant success while in political terms, they were less victorious as they didn’t achieve their stated goal of re-taking Jerusalem from Saladin.
The Third Crusade was significant in that it helped regain a foothold for Crusaders in Palestine. This would ensure continued Crusader presence in the Holy Lands. However, the Christians or Muslims were not entirely satisfied with the outcome of the Crusade.
In Europe, this dissatisfaction would eventually lead to calls for a Fourth Crusade.
The Fourth Crusade was beset by a lack of resources from the very beginning. While stationed at Venice on their way to the Holy Land, the Crusaders decided to attack the city of Zara to muster more resources. This led to the attack and siege of Zara in late 1202. The city fell and was extensively looted by Crusaders.
In 1204, Crusader forces sacked Constantinople after a prolonged siege. When the city fell, its riches, wealth, and art astounded Crusaders who proceeded to plunder it, destroying churches and killing or violating the citizens.
The event was a shameful episode of the Fourth Crusade which brought the Byzantine Empire to its knees.
Boniface I led the Fourth Crusade. He was the most significant Crusader leader through events like the Sack of Constantinople. After the city fell, he established the Kingdom of Thessalonica and ruled it as its king. His reign was brief and he was killed by the Bulgarians.
Enrico Dondola was the Doge of Venice and among the leading figures of the Fourth Crusade. He was a shrewd figure who used the Fourth Crusade to launch attacks on Zara and Constantinople in a bid to subdue these powers and increase the Venetian sphere of influence.
The Crusaders achieved victory against Byzantines and the city of Zara. However, these achievements were a far cry from the stated aims of marching on Jerusalem and wresting back the control from the Muslims.
The Fourth Crusade caused irreparable damage to the Byzantine Empire, beginning its end. The Empire was broken up into pieces and although it was revived later, the blow from the Crusaders was so severe that the Empire never fully recovered.
This ultimately would allow the Ottomans to take the initiative and capture Constantinople.
In 1217, the forces of Ayyubid Sultan Al-Adil were defeated by King Andrew II of Hungary. Ayyubids feared that Crusaders would march on the poorly-defended Jerusalem and repeat a massacre of its inhabitants as in the First Crusade.
Most of the inhabitants of the city fled, although the Crusaders didn’t eventually gain the city.
In 1218, Crusader forces laid siege to the town of Damietta which had strategic significance. The siege began in July 1218. After repeated attempts by the forces of Sultan Al-Kamil to relieve the town failed, Crusaders finally gained control of it in late 1219.
Muslim forces under Sultan Al-Kamil were decisively victorious. The main Crusader army was defeated and most leaders were captured by Al-Kamil. He later released the prisoners in exchange for the return of the town of Damietta.
The Fifth Crusade was reflective of the fact that Europe was losing its zeal and taste for religious wars. The same was true on the Muslim side where Ayyubid sultans preferred to negotiate peace instead of fighting wars.
This trend would culminate in Sixth Crusade which saw very little fighting.
Frederick II arrived in Cyprus in 1228 on his way to Jerusalem. He sought to impose authority on Cyprus but failed as he couldn’t muster the support of the barons.
In 1229, an agreement was reached between Frederick II and Al-Kamil. As per this agreement, the Crusaders gained control of most of Jerusalem for 10 years. The agreement averted any fighting between Muslim and Christian forces.
The Crusader forces secured a diplomatic victory by gaining control of Jerusalem and other territories in the Holy Land. However, it was only a temporary arrangement.
The Sixth Crusade was the first time a crusade was launched without the direct backing of the Papacy. In fact, Frederick II had been excommunicated while he conducted the Crusade.
This battle was fought in 1250 between Crusader forces under Louis IX and Ayyubid forces. The battle was a decisive victory for the Ayyubids and significantly affected Crusader morale.
The battle of Fariksur was one of the final significant battles of the Seventh Crusade. It was fought between Egyptian Muslim forces and a Crusader army under Louis IX. Crusaders suffered a decisive defeat and Louis IX was taken captive.
The Muslim forces achieved a decisive victory in the Seventh Crusade. Louis IX met failure, was captured, and had to be ransomed for a great sum.
The Seventh Crusade marked a general disinterest among European monarchs in a religious crusade. Louis IX was the only monarch who expressed such zeal at the time.
For his efforts, he gained considerable fame and influence across Europe.
The only notable event of the Eighth Crusade was the Siege of Tunis. The siege was undertaken under a Crusader army led by Louis IX. However, Louis IX died after falling ill and the siege met failure.
There was little to no fighting in this crusade, and the Crusader army failed to achieve its objectives.
The Eighth Crusade had little significance and generally gained nothing for the Crusaders.
Other crusading efforts in medieval Europe included many minor crusades. These include the Albigensian Crusade, the Ninth Crusade, and the Barons’ Crusade.
The Albigensian Crusade lasted from 1209 to 1229 and was aimed at eliminating Catharism. The Barons’ Crusade lasted from 1234 to 1241.
The Ninth Crusade was undertaken by future King Edward I of England while he was still only a lord. It lasted from 1271 to 1272.
The Crusades were a vitally important event of the medieval period. It marked the most widespread and long-lasting conflict along religious lines between the Christian and Muslim worlds.
The Crusades brought many successes for the Crusaders although the Muslim forces were able to keep the upper hand by the end of the long struggle.
Nevertheless, European knights, monarchs, and barons achieved notable success and garnered glory, fame, and wealth during the Crusades.
In many ways, European understanding of the Muslim world and the view of the Orient also came to be based on the often-fictional and exaggerated accounts penned by the Crusaders.
It also opened up means to foster trade, communication, and more comprehensive relations between different European nations.
It also brought Muslims and Christians into a long and persistent contact, allowing both sides to study, know and understand each other. On the Muslim side, the Crusades helped in the rise of the Ayyubid dynasty
Crusades were religious wars between Christians and Muslims. As such, these wars created a permanent sense of animosity between the two sides. These wars demonstrated for many that the religious ideals of the two rivals could not be reconciled.
We hope you enjoyed this comprehensive article on the Crusades during the middle ages, this article was written in response to the many questions we are asked about the Crusades!