Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they
do it from religious conviction.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Pensées
The Christian Churches' attitute to Islam is well summarised by
its record during the Crusades.
The concept of a Just or Holy War is an ancient one. The Jews used
the concept, and it was probably from them that Christians and Moslems
adopted it. All three principle monotheistic religions still accept
the idea and continue to use it. For Jews it is a kherem,
for Moslems it is a jihad, and for Christians a Crusade.
The concept of a crusade was developed in the eleventh century
as a result of organised Christian forces fighting Moslems in Sicily
and Spain. The seeds of the standard inducements to crusaders were
set: territory for those who conquered, absolution for those who
died in the attempt, and indulgences for all who participated .
The best known crusades were a series of military expeditions promoted
by the papacy during the Middle Ages, aimed at taking the Holy Land
for Christendom. The Holy Land had been in the hands of the Moslems
since 638 AD, and it was against them that the crusades were, at
least nominally, directed. Desire for adventure and plunder seems
to have been at least as influential in attracting Christians to
the cause as any desire to restore Christ's supposed patrimony.
The Church regarded crusaders as military pilgrims. They took vows
and were rewarded with privileges of protection for their property
at home. Any legal proceedings against them were suspended. Another
major inducement was the offer of indulgences for the remission
of sin. Knights were especially attracted by carte blanche indulgences
allowing them to commit any sins throughout the rest of their lives
without incurring liability in this or the next world. During the
Crusades the Western Church developed new types of Holy Warrior.
These were military monks such as the Knights Hospitallers and Knights
Templars. They were literally both soldiers and monks, and took
vows for each calling. Originally they followed the rule of St Benedict.
Nine crusades are generally recognised, though there were many
others. Many of them collapsed before they got out of Christendom.
Some, such as the Children's Crusade are now disowned as crusades
at all. Others were directed not against Moslems but fellow Christians
in Europe, the Church at Constantinople, Christian Emperors and
kings, sects who rejected the Roman Church, even powerful Italian
families hostile to the pope of the day.
The First Crusade. The First Crusade was planned by Pope
Urban II and more than 200 bishops at the Council of Clermont. It
was preached by Urban between AD 1095 and 1099. He assured his listeners
that God himself wanted them to encourage men of all ranks, rich
and poor, to go and exterminate Moslems. He said that Christ commanded
it. Even robbers, he said, should now become soldiers of Christ
. Assured that God wanted them to participate in Holy War, masses
pressed forward to take the crusaders' oath. They looked forward
to a guaranteed place in Heaven for themselves and to an assured
victory for their divinely endorsed army. The pope did not appoint
a secular military supreme commander, only a spiritual one, the
Bishop of Le Puy. Initial expeditions were led by two churchmen,
Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless. Peter was a monk from
Amiens, whose credentials were a letter written by God and delivered
to him by Jesus. He assured his followers that death in the Crusades
provided an automatic passport to Heaven.
One German contingent in the Rhine valley was granted a further
sign from God. He sent them an enchanted goose to follow. It led
them to Jewish neighbourhoods of Spier, where they took the divine
hint and massacred the inhabitants. Similar massacres followed at
Worms, Mainz, Metz, Prague, Ratisbon, and other cities. These pogroms
completed, Peter's army marched through Hungary towards Turkey.
On the way they killed 4,000 Christians in Zemun (present day Semlin),
pillaged Belgrade, and set fire to the towns around Ni. They
thieved and murdered all the way to Constantinople, by which time
only about a third of the initial force remained. The emperor was
astonished. He had asked the West for trained mercenaries, and had
been provided with a murderous rabble. To minimise the risks of
danger to his own city he allowed the crusaders to proceed. Once
across the Bosphorus, they continued as before. Marching beyond
Nicæa, a French contingent ravaged the countryside. They looted
property, and robbed, tortured, raped and murdered the mainly Christian
inhabitants of the country, reportedly roasting babies on spits
. Six thousand German crusaders, including bishops and priests,
jealous of the French success, tried to emulate it. But this time
the Sultan's forces arrived. The holy crusaders were chopped to
pieces. Survivors were given the chance to save their lives by converting
to Islam, which some did, including their leader Rainauld , setting
a precedent for many future defeats.
The principle expedition which followed was more organised, though
crusaders continued to threaten their Christian allies in Constantinople
on the way. The Christian Emperor was shocked to find his capital
under attack by Western Christians in Holy Week . He developed a
technique for bringing the barbarian Westerners under control by
speedily processing batches of them as they arrived. His technique
was to induce them to swear fealty to him, then swiftly move them
across the Bosphorus before the next batch arrived. On the far side
of the water their massed forces were no threat to the city. Apart
from further devastating the countryside they could do little but
prepare for their first encounter with their non-Christian enemies.
Sieges were laid to a series of Moslem cities. Catapults were
used to shoot the severed heads of captives into the cites of their
fellow Moslems. After a victory near Antioch Crusaders brought severed
heads back to the besieged city. Hundreds of these heads were shot
into the city, and hundreds more impaled on stakes in front of the
city walls. A Crusader bishop called it a joyful spectacle for the
people of God. When Moslems crept out of the city at night to bury
their dead the Christians left them alone. Then in the morning the
Christians returned, and dug up the corpses to steal gold and silver
When the Crusaders took Antioch in 1098 they slaughtered the inhabitants.
Later the Christians were in turn besieged by Moslem reinforcements.
The crusaders broke out, putting the Moslem army to flight and capturing
their women. The chronicler Fulcher of Chartres was proud to record
that on this occasion nothing evil (i.e. sexual) had happened, although
the women had been murdered in their tents, pierced through the
belly by lances .. Time and time again Moslems who surrendered were
killed or sold into slavery. This treatment was applied to combatants
and citizens alike: women, children, the old, the infirm - anyone
and everyone. At Albara the population was totally extirpated, the
town then being resettled with Christians, and the mosque converted
into a church. Often, the Christians offered to spare those who
capitulated, but it was an unwise Moslem who accepted such a promise.
A popular technique was to promise protection to all who took refuge
in a particular building within the besieged city. Then after the
battle, the Christians had an easy time: the men could be massacred
and the women and children sold into slavery without having to carry
out searches. Clerics justified this by claiming that Christians
were not bound by promises made to infidels, even if sworn in the
name of God. At Maarat an-Numan the pattern was repeated. The slaughter
continued for three days, both Christian and Moslem accounts agreeing
on the main points, though each has its own details. The Christian
account describes how the Moslems' bodies were dismembered. Some
were cut open to find hidden treasure, while others were cut up
to eat . The Moslem account mentions that over 100,000 were killed.
When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem on the 14th July 1099, they
massacred the inhabitants, Jews and Moslems alike, men, women and
children. The killing continued all night and into the next day.
Jews who took refuge in their synagogue were burned alive. Moslems
sought refuge in the al-Aqsa mosque under the protection of a Christian
banner. In the morning Crusaders forced an entry and massacred them
all, 70,000 according to an Arab historian, including a large number
of scholars. The Temple of Solomon was so full of blood that it
came up to the horses' bridles. The chronicler Raymond of Aguiliers
described it as a just and wonderful judgement of God . Even before
the killing was over the crusaders went to the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre "rejoicing and weeping for joy" to thank God
for his assistance. Moslem prisoners were decapitated, shot with
arrows, forced to jump from high towers, or burned. Some were tortured
first. Neither was this an isolated incident. It was wholly typical.
When the crusaders took Caesarea in 1101 many citizens fled to the
Great Mosque and begged the Christians for mercy. At the end of
the butchery the floor was a lake of blood. In the whole city only
a few girls and infants survived. Soon afterwards, there was a similar
massacre at Beirut. Such barbarity shocked the Eastern world and
left an impression of the Christian West that has still not been
forgotten in the third millennium.
By 1101 reinforcements were on the way, under the command of the
Archbishop of Milan, to support the Frankish crusaders already in
the Holy Land. Mainly Lombards, the new troops lived up the record
of their French and German predecessors, robbing and killing Christians
on the way, and blaming the Byzantine Emperor for the consequences
of their own shortcomings. At the first engagement with the enemy
they fled in panic leaving their women and children behind to be
killed or sold in slave markets. As Sir Steven Runciman, a leading
historian of the period says: The Byzantines were "shocked
and angered by the stupidity, the ingratitude and the dishonesty
of the Crusaders" . They also questioned the Crusaders' loyalty
to their Byzantine allies. The crusaders had purportedly gone to
help Byzantium, and had sworn to restore to the emperor any of his
territory that they recaptured , but not a single one ever did so.
Indeed, Eastern Christians were regarded as enemies as much as the
Fired by the success of his crusade against the Moslems, Pope
Paschal II gave his blessing in 1105 to a Holy War against his fellow
Christians in the East. Preached by a papal legate, the new crusade
sought to subjugate the Eastern Empire to Rome. This was unprecedented
treachery and undisguised imperialism. For the time being such perfidy
got the crusaders nowhere.
The Second Crusade. The Second Crusade was proclaimed by
Pope Eugene III in 1145. It was preached by St Bernard, a leading
Cistercian theologian who declared that "The Christian glories
in the death of a pagan, because thereby Christ himself is glorified".
He also pointed out that anyone who kills an unbeliever does not
commit homicide, but malicide , in other words they kill not a man
but an evil. He knew how to sell a crusade to believers. His spiel
was reminiscent of that of a high pressure salesman selling to credulous
But to those of you who are merchants, men quick to seek a bargain,
let me point out the advantages of this great opportunity. Do
not miss them. Take up the sign of the cross and you will find
indulgence for all sins which you humbly confess. The cost is
small, the reward is great
This Second Crusade was led by the greatest potentates of the
West: King Louis VII of France and the German Emperor Conrad III.
Once again churchmen promoted anti-Semitism in Germany and France.
Without the aid of a single enchanted goose the crusaders once again
found unbelievers in their midst. Inspired by a Cistercian monk,
they massacred Jews throughout the Rhineland - notably in Cologne,
Mainz, Worms, Spier and Strasburg .
The initial object of this second crusade was to recapture Edessa
which had fallen to the Muslims in 1144. Initial contingents were
lead by military commanders like the bishops of Metz and Toul. On
the way, travelling by sea, the Crusaders besieged the then Moslem
city of Lisbon. After four months the garrison surrendered, having
been promised their lives and their property if they capitulated.
They did capitulate and were then massacred. Only about a fifth
of the original Crusader force got as far as Syria, where the real
crusade started. It proved a failure, at least partially because
tactical targets were selected for religious rather than military
reasons. A military tactician might have gone for Aleppo, but the
Crusade leaders agreed on mounting an attack on Damascus, apparently
because they recognised its name as biblical. The leaders argued
amongst themselves until the crusade collapsed in 1149, having failed
to take Edessa or Damascus. The whole thing had been a disaster.
As Runciman put it:
No medieval enterprise started with more splendid hopes. Planned
by the Pope, preached and inspired by the golden eloquence of
Saint Bernard, and lead by the two chief potentates of western
Europe, it had promised so much for the glory and salvation of
Christendom. But when it reached its ignominious end in the weary
retreat from Damascus, all that it had achieved had been to embitter
relations between the western Christians and the Byzantines almost
to breaking-point, to sow suspicions between the newly-come Crusaders
and the Franks resident in the East, to separate the western Frankish
princes from each other, to draw the Moslems closer together,
and to do deadly damage to the reputation of the Franks for military
The Moslem Turks extended their rule to Egypt soon afterwards.
St Bernard had been promised a victory by God, but instead of this
He had provided a complete disaster. Bernard and his supporters
tried hard to work out why God's purpose as it had been revealed
to him had been so badly frustrated. Perhaps the best solution was
that the outcome had been a great success after all, because it
had transferred so many Christian warriors from God's earthly army
to his heavenly one. Not everyone was convinced. Meanwhile the Christian
forces resident in the East accommodated themselves to the realities
of Eastern life. Eventually they would come to terms with the fact
that until their arrival Moslems, Jews and Christians had lived
together in amity. Resident Christians often preferred their old
Moslem masters to their new Christian ones.
Moslem captives who chose to convert to Christianity rather than
die were allowed to, but only if there were no further monetary
complications. When Cairo offered 60,000 dinars to the Templars
for the return of a putative convert, his Christian instruction
was promptly suspended and he was sent in chains to Cairo to be
mutilated and hanged. Such incidents brought little glory to either
side, but it is fair to say that Moslem princes generally conducted
themselves with a degree of honour and chivalry lacking amongst
the Christians. Saladin, for example provided medical assistance
on the battlefield to the wounded of both sides, and even allowed
Christian physicians to visit Christian prisoners, though this was
something of a mixed blessing.
Time and time again the Christians made promises under oath and
them reneged upon them with the encouragement of the priesthood.
In 1188 the King of Jerusalem, Guy, who had been captured by Saladin
was released. Guy had solemnly sworn that he would leave the country
and never again take arms against the Moslems. Immediately, a cleric
was found to release him from his oath. Despite this sort of behaviour,
Moslem leaders generally stuck to their own promises. They were
rather bemused by the cynical behaviour of the Western Christians
in this and other respects. Often the cynicism worked to the Moslems'
advantage. For example, Saladin was pleasantly surprised to find
that Italian city states were prepared to sell him high quality
weapons to be used against crusaders.
Meanwhile in 1147 another crusade had been authorised, this time
against the Slavs. Wearing the crosses authorised by the pope, the
Crusaders set out to force Christianity on peoples east of Oldenburg
- people who thought they already had a perfectly good religion
of their own, and who therefore had be slaughtered or beaten into
The Third Crusade. Having proclaimed a jihad in 1186, Saladin
re-took Jerusalem for the Moslems the following year. Once the battle
was over no one was killed or injured, and not a building was looted.
The captives were permitted to ransom themselves, and those who
could afford to do so ransomed their vassals as well. Many thousands
could not afford their ransom, and were held to be sold as slaves.
The military monks, who could have used their vast wealth to save
their fellow Christians from slavery, declined to do so. The head
of the Church, the Patriarch Heraclius, and his clerics looked after
themselves. The Moslems saw Heraclius pay his ten dinars for his
own ransom and leave the city bowed with the weight of the gold
that he was carrying, followed by carts laden with other valuables.
As the unransomed prisoners were lead off to a life of slavery Saladin's
brother Malik al-Adil took pity. He asked his brother for a thousand
of them as a reward for his services, and when he was granted them
he immediately gave them their liberty. This triggered further generosity
amongst the victorious commanders, culminating in Saladin offering
gifts from his own treasury to the Christian widows and orphans.
"His mercy and kindness were in strange contrast to the deeds
of the Christian conquerors of the First Crusade" .
By now the Emperor in Constantinople was beginning to understand
the nature of Western Christianity. When he heard of the Moslem
victory, he sent an embassy to congratulate its leaders. Eastern
Christians had already generally allied themselves with the Moslems,
regarding them as fairer and more civilised rulers than the followers
of the Church of Rome. Now they asked to stay in Jerusalem, were
allowed to do so, and gave "prodigious service" to their
After the loss of Jerusalem a Third Crusade was preached by Pope
Gregory VIII. It was jointly led by Frederick Barbarossa, Philip
of France, and Richard I of England (The Lionheart). The Archbishop
of Canterbury, Baldwin, went along too. Richard had been crowned
on 3rd September in 1189 with Crusading fervour already in the air.
English Christians emulated their continental co-religionists, and
took to murdering Jews, starting with those who had come to offer
presents to their new king. This sparked further persecutions throughout
the country, most notably in York. Soon the crusaders, including
those who had engaged in the murder of Jews, departed for the East
along with their continental co-religionists. Frederick Barbarossa
died on the way, an event which mystified the Crusaders, but which
Moslems immediately recognised as a miracle wrought by God for the
one true faith. Philip and Richard squabbled with each other, and
attempted to bribe each other's armies to change allegiance (three
gold pieces per month for English knights who joined Philip: four
for French knights who joined Richard).
Eventually, Philip gave up and went home. Richard went on to capture
Acre in 1191. Saladin was unable to pay for the release of the survivors
quickly enough, so Richard ordered the massacre of his 2,700 captives,
many of them women and children. They waited in line, each watching
the one in front have their throat slit. Wives were slaughtered
at the side of their husbands, children at the side of their parents
while bishops blessed the proceedings. Corpses were then cut open
in the hope of finding swallowed jewels.
Richard found further success difficult to come by, and a truce
was made with Saladin, though Richard felt free to break it when
it suited him. Despite Richard's behaviour, Saladin continued to
treat him with respect when they met on the battlefield, apparently
because he was impressed by Richard's fighting prowess. When Richard's
horse fell, wounded in battle outside Jaffa in August 1192, Saladin
sent a groom through the melêe with fresh mounts for him.
The Lionheart's treatment by his Moslem enemy contrasted with his
treatment by his own Christian allies. On his way home later that
year Richard was captured and imprisoned by a fellow crusader, Leopold,
Duke of Austria. He was eventually released on payment of the Christian
sum of 150,000 marks (£100,000), literally a king's ransom.
The Fourth Crusade. The Fourth Crusade was preached by
Pope Innocent III and lasted from 1202 to 1204. Although intended
to regain the Holy Land from the Moslems by way of Egypt, the crusade
was hijacked by the Venetians and directed against the Christian
cities of Zara and then Constantinople, which offered a softer target
and richer pickings. Constantinople was taken, the Emperor deposed,
and Baldwin of Flanders was set up in his place. The victorious
crusaders amused themselves in the usual way, even though this was
the capital of Christendom. As well as the standard bout of destruction,
the men of the cross desecrated imperial tombs, plundered churches,
stole holy relics, wrecked houses, vandalised libraries, destroyed
whatever loot they could not carry, raped nuns, murdered at will,
and set a prostitute on the Patriarch's throne in Sancta Sophia,
the Church of the Holy Wisdom, the greatest Church in Christendom.
Later a Latin Patriarch was installed, and the Venetians shipped
off the remaining treasures to their own city, where some of them
remain to this day. The Eastern Churches still harbour bitter resentment
about the behaviour of Western Christians during this time. Here
is a modern Orthodox bishop on the subject:
Eastern Christendom has never forgotten those three appalling
days of pillage. 'Even the Saracens are merciful and kind,' protested
Nicetas Choniates [a contemporary historian], 'compared with these
men who bear the Cross of Christ on their shoulders.' What shocked
the Greeks more than anything was the wanton and systematic sacrilege
of the Crusaders. How could men who had specially dedicated themselves
to God's service treat the things of God in such a way? As the Byzantines
watched the Crusaders tear to pieces the alter and icon screen in
the Church of the Holy Wisdom, and set prostitutes on the Patriarch's
throne, they must have felt that those who did such things were
not Christians in the same sense as themselves.
The western Church saw nothing wrong with its conduct. It is true
that the Pope was initially irritated by the crusade having been
diverted to attack Zara. But His Holiness was soon reconciled by
a victory in his name over the Emperor, and any pretence that the
crusade was ever to go to fight the infidel was abandoned. A papal
legate, Peter of Saint-Marcel, issued a decree absolving the Crusaders
from having to proceed further to fight the Moslems. The new Latin
Emperor, Baldwin, wrote to the Pope about the sack of the city as
'a miracle that God had wrought'. The Pope rejoiced in the Lord
and gave his approval without reserve . Modern historians tend to
sympathise with the Greek rather than the Latin view. As Sir Steven
Runciman put it "There was never a greater crime against humanity
than the Fourth Crusade" .
In 1208 the Pope launched Crusades against the Cathars in Southern
France, and in 1211 against Moslems in Spain, but it was difficult
to raise interest in expeditions to the more distant and dangerous
Holy Land. 1212 saw the so-called Children's crusade. This crusade
was preached by a French shepherd boy aged around 12, inspired by
a vision of Christ. Christ gave him a letter for the King, and despite
the king's indifference, the boy succeeded in rousing 30,000 recruits,
none over the age of 12. The Crusader children were blessed by priests
and marched off to Marseilles. The idea was that God would protect
them and supply them with suitable fighting skills. He would even
part the sea so that they could walk from Marseilles to the Holy
Land. But God declined to perform his promised miracle at Marseilles.
Instead two men, monks according to one tradition, Hugh the Iron
and William the Pig according to another, offered the children ships
free of charge to take them to their destination. Most accepted,
embarked, and were promptly sold as slaves to African Moslems. (This
was not an isolated incident. Catholic traders were engaged in an
established commerce involving the sale of young boys to Moslem
rulers ). Some 40,000 German children also set out on the Crusade,
but God declined to perform his promised miracle for them either.
How many ever arrived to fight, if any at all, is not known. Few
ever returned home.
Meanwhile in the Holy Land the resident Christians were becoming
ever more accustomed to Eastern Life. They wore robes and turbans,
ate Eastern food, married Eastern women and learned Eastern medicine.
Alliances were made between powerful rulers, often irrespective
of religion. Christians accepted Moslems as their feudal Lords and
Moslems accepted Christians as theirs. The Assassins, ('Hashashins'),
a hashish smoking sect of Moslems who were the leading hit-men of
the day, paid tribute to Hospitallers and carried out occasional
assassinations on their behalf. In return the Hospitallers protected
them from their hostile Sunni Moslem neighbours.
The Fifth Crusade. This Crusade was preached by Pope Innocent
III but undertaken in the reign of Pope Honorius III. It was lead
by Cardinal Pelagius of Lucia, and lasted from 1217 to 1221. Although
ultimately intended to recover Jerusalem the main force was initially
directed against Egypt. Damietta was besieged. Saladin proposed
a deal. He would cede Jerusalem, all central Palestine, and Galilee
if the crusaders would spare Damietta. This offer was rejected by
Pelagius, despite military advice.
Damietta duly fell to the Christians. The surviving inhabitants
were sold into slavery, and their children handed over to the Christian
priests to be baptised and trained into the service of the Church.
But Saladin soon recovered Damietta by force. The Christian campaign
had been another failure, undermined by a combination of personal
and national jealousies along with the lack of strategic insight
on the part of Cardinal Pelagius, a man who has been described as
"an ignorant and obstinate fanatic". As the defeated Christians
sailed off, stories of their atrocities triggered a wave of persecution
of Christians communities in Egypt, which until then had happily
coexisted with their Moslem masters for centuries.
The Sixth Crusade. The Sixth Crusade was proposed by Pope
Gregory IX, but found few takers, previous crusades having proved
such failures. The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II organised his
own crusade while under sentence of excommunication, and pursued
it between 1222 and 1229. Despite the pope's machinations and much
to his embarrassment Frederick's military and strategic skill led
to a negotiated settlement under which Nazareth, Bethlehem, and
Jerusalem came under Christian control. On his return to Europe
the victorious Frederick crushed the papal forces, which had been
sent to destroy him, and the pope had no choice but to lift the
sentence of excommunication.
The Seventh Crusade. The Seventh Crusade lasted from 1248
to 1254. It was initiated under Pope Innocent IV, Jerusalem having
been lost to the Moslems again in 1244. It was led by King Louis
IX of France (St Louis) who started by attacking Egypt. Once again
Damietta was captured, and once again the Sultan offered to exchange
it for Jerusalem. Once again the offer was rejected. And once again
the Moslems won Damietta back by force of arms. Louis himself was
captured, and had to be ransomed for 400,000 bezants. After his
release he went to the Holy Land, but failed to recover the holy
cities, and so gave up and went home.
Frederick II fell out of favour again under Pope Innocent IV,
who now preached a crusade against him and plotted his murder, though
the plot came to nothing. Innocent's successor, Pope Alexander IV,
organised a crusade against Frederick's son Manfred, but Manfred
defeated the papal forces and ensconced himself in Sicily, where
he was murdered during the reign of the next pope, in 1266.
Pope Alexander IV tried to organise yet another crusade, this
time against the Mongols, but he was unsuccessful. Had he had a
better grasp of strategy he might instead have allied Western Christendom
with the Asian powers. Nestorian Christianity was still influential
in Asia, and the Mongols might easily have become allies, some of
their leaders having already been baptised. Western and Eastern
forces combined could have overcome the forces of Islam. In 1254
the Great Khan Mongka, whose mother had been a Nestorian Christian,
had offered to recover Jerusalem for the Christians, if the would
co-operate. But European Christians were unwilling to co-operate
with each other, much less a remote and unknown semi-heathen whose
mother had been a heretic. In time the victorious Mongols would
themselves convert to Islam and spread their new religion throughout
Asia, eclipsing Christianity from the Levant to the Far East.
The Eighth Crusade. The Eighth Crusade was proposed by
Pope Gregory X, but not organised until a later reign. It lasted
only from 1270 to 1271, and was initially led once again by St Louis.
An English contingent was made up largely of men who needed to hold
on to lands they had taken by force in the baronial wars of the
1260's. By joining a crusade they were assured of the protection
of the Church, and thus able to keep their newly acquired property.
The project was another failure. It collapsed after Louis died of
disease while attacking Carthage (modern Tunis).
The Ninth Crusade. The Ninth Crusade continued St Louis's
eighth crusade. It was led by Prince Edward between 1271 and 1272.
Edward, the future English King Edward I, reached the Holy Land
and was mystified by what he found. The Venetians were supplying
the Sultan with all the timber and metal he needed to manufacture
his armaments, while the Genoese controlled the Egyptian slave trade.
Like Edward, new arrivals were generally surprised by the realities
of life in the East. Italian city states jostled with each other
for trade with Christians and Moslems without distinction. Senior
churchmen paralysed strategic military initiatives. Noble families
argued with each other and betrayed each other without compunction.
So did the representatives of European nation states, jealous of
each others' favour or success. Members of the Eastern and Western
Churches bickered continuously. Military Orders squabbled with each
other and subverted military expeditions when they threatened their
own commercial interests. The Knights Templar created the first
true multinational banking corporation serving Christians and Moslems
alike, while Moslem Assassins continued to pay homage to the Hospitallers.
Christian vassals served Moslem Lords. Armaments were now the main
export from Christendom to the Moslems. Native Christians resented
their supposed saviours from the West, and would have preferred
life under Byzantine or Moslem rulers. Edward got nowhere in such
a milieu, so alien to his preconceptions. Like earlier crusades,
this one fizzled out, a total failure.
Civil wars in the remaining Christian territories in the East
hastened the end of the Crusading period in the Holy Land. Christian
princess burned each others' castles and besieged each other in
their strongholds. Western Christians were, regarded as barbarians
by almost everyone. They were likely to kill anyone on a whim, whether
Moslem, Jew or Christian. In 1290 newly arrived Italian Crusaders
went on a Moslem killing spree in Acre, but since they assumed that
any man with a beard was a Moslem, they murdered many Christians
as well. The Italians seem to have been even worse than most of
their fellow Crusaders:
the Italians, with their arrogance, their rivalries and
the cynicism of their policy, caused irremediable harm. They would
hold aloof from vital campaigns and openly parade the disunity
of Christendom. They supplied the Moslems with essential war-material.
They would riot and fight each other in the streets of the cities
Further Crusades. In 1297 Pope Boniface VIII preached a crusade
against the Colonnas, a powerful Italian family which regarded the
papacy almost as its hereditary possession, and which felt free
to take papal treasure at will, even when the papacy was temporarily
out of its control. The Crusade was announced, complete with indulgences,
but the Pope was captured by Colonna forces. Although he was rescued,
he died a month later a broken man. New crusades against the Turks
were proposed by a number of fourteenth century Popes, but they
never got started. Benedict XII, Innocent VI, Urban V and Gregory
XI all proposed them, and Urban even got as far as proclaiming his
in 1363, but nothing ever came of it.
King Peter I of Cyprus organised his own Crusade which attacked
and took Alexandria in 1365. The subsequent massacres followed traditional
lines of Jerusalem in 1099 and Constantinople in 1204. Crusaders
massacred native Christians indiscriminately along with Jews and
Moslems. 5,000 survivors, representing all three religions, were
sold into slavery. European triumphalism over this victory soon
waned. Moslem bitterness was revived, Venetian merchants were almost
ruined, the spice and silk trades dried up, pilgrims' access to
the Holy Land was imperilled, and native Eastern Christians were
persecuted once more. Christendom became alarmed at what might happen
next. Providentially, Peter was assassinated in 1369, and a peace
treaty was signed the following year.
In the fifteenth century, Pope Martin V organised an unsuccessful
Crusade against the Hussites, a Christian sect in Bohemia. Pope
Eugene IV tried to organise another crusade to recover the Holy
Land, but it was a failure. A few years later Cardinal Cesarini
persuaded the king of Hungary to support another crusade against
the Turks. A ten year truce was in place, but the Cardinal gave
assurances that an oath sworn to a Moslem was invalid. Battle was
joined at Varni in Bulgaria, in 1444, where the Christian forces
were roundly defeated, leaving Cardinal Cesarini amongst the dead.
The annihilation opened up central Europe to the Moslems and further
In 1453 the Turks finally sacked Constantinople, news of which
terrified European leaders. Pope Nicholas V tried to organise a
crusade to recover the city, but it was yet another failure. Pope
Callistus III did manage to organise one, funded by the sale of
indulgences, but it was diverted and finished up attacking Genoa.
Pope Pius II was so keen to revive the Crusades that he went himself,
but hardly anyone else could be coerced into going with him. He
waited near the coast at Ancona in the summer of 1464, hoping for
others to turn up. His attendants concealed the fact that no supporting
armies were on the way, and drew the curtains of his litter so that
he should not see the desertions from his own fleet. When a few
Venetian galleys hove into sight His Holiness died, apparently of
excitement, and the crusade was promptly abandoned. Pope Paul II
called for a crusade against the king of Bohemia, whom he suspected
of Hussite sympathies, but it too came to nothing. Sixtus IV made
a couple of efforts at organising crusades against the Turks, but
nothing came of them. Leo X planned another one in 1515, but nothing
ever came of it either. Clement XI hoped to launch a Crusade early
in the eighteenth century but he too failed to win much backing.
He equipped a fleet himself, but saw it diverted by one of his own
cardinals in 1717 to attack Sardinia.
Repercussions. The object of the crusades had been to save
Eastern Christendom from the Moslems. They were undertaken with
God's encouragement, support and promise of victory. When they ended
they had proved a disastrous failure. The whole of Eastern Christendom
was under Moslem rule. The Crusades, especially the later ones,
had been characterised by partisan self interest, short-sighted
pettiness, internal squabbles, strategic mismanagement, poor military
leadership, bigotry, barbarism, corruption, and dishonour. The implications
were wide ranging. The popes had succeeded in ruining the Emperors
of both East and West, while strengthening and unifying disparate
Moslem enemies. The greatest Church in Christendom, Sancta Sophia,
was now a mosque. Many Eastern Churches, which had always enjoyed
toleration under Moslem rulers, now suffered persecution and decline.
The schism between East and West, which might have been healed by
allies in war, was instead made permanent. Asia was lost to Christianity,
and was soon to convert wholesale to Islam. The balance of world
power had shifted irrevocably. The death toll of these expeditions
will never be known accurately for either side, but it is certain
that it numbered hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions. Most
of the dead were Christians. In fact Christian forces themselves
may have killed as many Christians and Jews as they did Moslems.
Both sides fought fiercely, not to say barbarously. Christian
virtues such as mercy and cheek-turning had been almost totally
absent throughout, at least on the Christian side. At the end of
it all nothing positive had been achieved. Before the crusades,
Moslems had had a great reputation for tolerance. Now that they
had suffered Christian atrocities and perfidy, they had become fanatical
in defence of their religion. As Runciman wrote of the slaughter
at Jerusalem during the First Crusade: "It was this bloodthirsty
proof of Christian fanaticism that recreated the fanaticism of Islam"
. Moslem respect for Eastern Christians was superseded by hatred
and contempt for Western ones.
The bitterness that was generated between the Christian west and
the Moslem Levant was so great that its effects rumbled down the
centuries and echo to the present day. In the nineteenth century
the Crimean War was triggered by Holy Russia declaring itself protector
of Christians in Ottoman lands, establishing itself as the successor
of Constantinople. Moscow even called itself the Third Rome, i.e.
the third capital of the Empire, with all the implications that
that title carried. Among others the new Rome sought to protect
the Armenians, the victims (as well as the perpetrators) of numerous
atrocities over the centuries. In 1915 Christian Armenians rebelled
against the Turks, and massacred Moslems. At Van alone they were
reported to have killed 30,000. Over the next five years hundreds
of thousands, possibly more than 2,000,000 died. According to some
the victims were mainly Christians, according to others they were
mainly Moslem. Such killing has continued into recent times. In
1988 Christians and Moslems started killing each other again, this
time over the enclave of Ngorno Karabakh in Azerbaijan.
In the 1980's and 90's Christian-Moslem fighting broke out in
North Africa, notably in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt. It
happened in Europe as well - in Bosnia and Kosovo. Christian forces
were also heavily involved in the civil war in the Lebanon. Arguably,
the most brutal incident during the whole war was perpetrated by
Christians against Moslem refugees. In 1982 hundreds of men, women
and children were massacred by Christian troops in the refugee camps
in Sabra and Chatila. It was like the original crusades all over
again, except with machine guns. Maronite Christians, who are in
communion with Rome, still echo the behaviour of their Crusader
forbears. When General Michel Aoun launched a Christian offensive
in March 1989 against Syrians in the Lebanon, he explicitly called
it a "Crusade". Some Moslem fighters in the Lebanon call
themselves Salabeyen after Saladin's men who fought the Crusaders.
There are many other echoes of the Crusades - louder in the East
than in the West. The Anglo-French Suez expedition of 1956 was regarded
by many Moslems as an attempted repeat of Crusader victories in
1191. The Palestine Liberation Organisation regards Israel as the
West's new Crusader State. Two of the PLO's divisions are named
after the sites of Moslem victories over the Christian Crusaders
(Hattin and Ayn Julat). Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot Pope John-Paul
II in 1981, described his victim in a letter as the "supreme
commander of the Crusades" . During the Gulf war of 1991, Saddam
Hussein, was guarantied massive public support in many Moslem countries
by likening the Western offensive to a Christian Crusade, and implicitly
likening himself to Saladin.
When calls were made by western leaders for a "crusade against
evil" in 2001, following terrorist actions in the USA, the
whole issue of the crusades was opened up again. Although the call
sounded in the west like a call for war against evil, it sounded
to many in the East like a call for a Holy War against Islam. Most
people in the West are still unaware of how sensitive the whole
issue still is in the Moslem world.
The crusaders' cross is still remembered by Moslems and it is
for this reason that the symbol of the red cross is not acceptable
in Moslem countries, even if it has no connection with the crusaders'
cross. The organisation generally known in the west as the Red Cross
is to Moslems known as the Red Crescent. Nor is this the only symbolic
reminder: Western swords are still made in the shape of a cross,
just as scimitars are still made in the shape of a crescent.