Crusades _ The Medieval World and The World Today ( First and Second Crusade )

Natasha Matloob
8 min readJul 5, 2021


All about the religious expeditions which changed the entire world despite being unsuccessful.

Crusades left deep marks on the culture and civilizations of many nations. Crusades were a series of religious military campaigns of Christians to take back the holy lands from Muslims. The holy lands are the areas of current Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Ceasing the territorial evolution of Islam under Seljuk Turks was also a major motive. Before going into the details of the Crusades, it is necessary to understand the significance of the city of Jerusalem.

Importance of Jerusalem

Jerusalem has been the world’s most holy city for the three largest monotheist religions of the world I.e Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

For Muslims

For Muslims, it was their first qibla (praying direction), and the Event of Mairaj un Nabi (Nocturnal journey of Prophet Hazrat Muhammad(S.A.W) took place here. Al- Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of Rock are among the holiest places of Muslims after Mecca and Madina.

For Jews

Jews all over the world face Jerusalem for praying. The spiritual side of Judaism - Temple Mount is in Jerusalem. The sacred wall of news I.e the Western Wall is also here. Many events described in the Hebrew Bible (a common religious book of both Christians and Jews) took place here.

For Christians

For Christians, Jerusalem is the land where Jesus Christ was born, preached, died, and will come back again. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Mount Calvary is also here. This land has been the most sacred pilgrimage site for Christians all around the world for centuries. That’s why this holy city of Jerusalem has been attacked, captured, and recaptured at least 50 times. Currently, Israel is controlling the sacred city of Jerusalem and which is the capital of Israel.

A Brief History of Jerusalem

Emperor Constantine I of the Roman Empire conquered Jerusalem in 335 BC. He restored the true Cross of Christ there and ousted all Jews from there. His mother -Halena discovered some holy places of Jesus Christ and Constantine constructed churches in these places according to her mother’s recommendations. These locations became the most sacred places for Christians in the years to come. Jerusalem remained under Christians' control until the emergence of Islam in the 7th century AD. Muslim Caliph Umar bin Khattab conquered Jerusalem in 638 AD. He solidified the Islamic system there, allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem after many centuries, and gave them complete liberty to live and worship in their way. Later, Jerusalem came under the control of the Umayyad Dynasty( 650-750 AD) Muslims. Caliph Abd Al-Malik built the Dome of Rock there. After the Umayyads' fall, Abbasid Caliphate(750-1258 AD)took custody of these areas. In 969, the Fatimid empire unseated Jerusalem from the Abbasids and established their own rule there which lasted until 1070 AD. The period of the Fatimids' control over Jerusalem was a disputed and controversial one. Several earthquakes and other natural calamities also occurred during their era which damaged Al- Aqsa mosque and the Dome of Rock. Caliph Ali az Zahir renovated these sites. Later, Caliph Al-Hakim bi Amr Allah ordered the demolishment of all churches in Jerusalem. After the Fatimid rule, Seljuk Turks assumed control of these regions in 1077 AD.

The Rise of the First Crusade

In 1071, a battle took place between Seljuk Sultanate under Sultan Alp Arsalan and the Byzantine empire under Romanus Diogenes IV. In this war, Byzantines were decisively defeated and Anatolia and Armenia were Turkified. Byzantine Emperor Alexios Kmnenos I assumed power in 1081 AD. Meanwhile, Seljuk Sultan Malik Shah died in 1092 AD and his death created chaos and disintegration in his empire. Alexios saw this situation as a golden chance to restore Syria 🇸🇾 and Asia Minor from the Turks. For this purpose, he needed a huge army. , he sought help from the Roman Catholic Church by writing a letter to Pope Urban II.

Pope decided to help the Byzantines because he had his vested interests as well in this mission. Crusades could be the only way to cease rapid Islamic evolution and increase his power. However, nothing is sure about his intentions for the Crusades. A critical point in this respect is that the fundamental goal of the Crusades was to combat Muslims and take back Holy lands from them, but a large number of Jews were also slaughtered after capturing the sacred city. Pope Urban II gave a sermon at Clermont which inspired the Christians to fight against their rivals. He contacted neighboring Christian empires as well which gave a positive response. Although relations between the Eastern (Byzantine empire)and Western Christian empires were not good since the East-West Schism of 1054 AD( an event that separated the Eastern Christian World from Western Christianity due to differences in theological and religious practices. Iconoclastic movement was also a part of this event.) now their relations were improving again. The Pope incited the religious feelings of knights by promising forgiveness of their sins if they took Holy lands from Saracens ( a term used for Muslims in medieval times). A large number of knights offered themselves for the following honorable motives:

  • To take the Holy Land from Muslims.
  • To obey the orders of the Pope.
  • To get forgiveness for their sins.
  • To get new lands and wealth.
  • To undertake adventure and prove their heroism to the whole world.🌎

People’s Crusade (1095 AD)

While the western leaders were making preparations for a grand crusade, smaller groups of Peasants and Knights started assembling their army and resources under the leadership of a preacher "Peter the Hermit". This small crusade was launched earlier than the main crusader armies. Their battalions used the ancient Roman roads, robbing the towns on their way to fulfill their needs as pillaging was a common practice during the Middle Ages. Before reaching the Holy lands these Crusaders massacred the local Jewish community of Rhineland on their way and forced them to accept Christianity or die. Many Jews committed suicide and killed their children to protect their faith due to the antisemitism (hostility or prejudice against Jews) mentality of the Crusaders.

Although Byzantine emperor Alexios received this crusader army warmly he betrayed them by misleading them into a way where Seljuk Turks killed a great number of their corps. Thus, the People’s crusade did nothing except undergo dominant losses and earn notoriety.

The First Crusade (1096–1099 AD)

The main Crusaders' armies reached their destination in the Byzantine realm in 1096 AD. These armies were led by many brave counts and princes like :

  • Hugh of Vermandois (Brother of King Philip I of France ).
  • Godfrey of Bouillon (German Prince)Bohemond ( a Norman Prince from Italy).
  • Raymond of Saint Gilles( Count of Toulouse)
  • Robert of Flanders with cousin Robert of Normandy(brother of King William II of England)

At first, Alexios got stunned to see such big armies in Constantinople. Thus, he took an oath from all the leaders of the crusader’s armies to give him control of conquered areas in the future. All the leaders willingly or unwillingly approved his conditions.

The main army advanced and took Nicea from the Seljuk Turks. After that, they further defeated the Turks and took important cities like Antioch(Antakya), Sidon, Jaffa, Tyre, Acre, and Haifa from them. In 1099 AD crusaders arrived Jerusalem. Using ladders and siege engines they broke the walls and entered the city. The local population comprising Muslims and Jews was assassinated by the crusaders. Christians also damaged the Dome of Rocks and Al Aqsa Mosque of Muslims. It is narrated by certain sources that massacres of Muslims and Jews in 1099 AD in the holy city of Jerusalem were so worse that the streets became red with flowing blood.

After taking control of Jerusalem, Crusaders’ leaders sent a letter to the pope informing him about their victory but Pope Urban had died by that time. This Crusade made the relations between Rome and Constantinople(the capital of the Byzantine empire) even worse because it is narrated that the Byzantines had not suitably collaborated with the crusader’s armies to accomplish the holy expedition. It was the first time Christians had taken control of the Holy land after 638 AD. Several crusaders states were solidified in the Holy lands like:

  • The County of Edessa(1098-1144 AD) in today’s areas of Syria and Turkey. It was conquered by the Noor ud din Zengi in 1144 AD which elicited the Second Crusade and its remaining areas later went under the supervision of the Byzantines.
  • The Principality of Antioch (1098–1268 AD). It was conquered by Mamluk Sultanate under Baibars in 1268 AD.
  • Jerusalem(1099-1187 AD) was established by Godfrey of Bouillon after the end of the first crusade. Baldwin became its first king. Ayyubid Sultan Saladin captured it in 1187 AD after remaining under Christian control for 90 years.
  • County of Tripoli (1109-1289 AD) in today’s areas of Lebanon and Syria. It was taken by the Mamluks of Cairo in 1289.

The Second Crusade (1147–1150 AD)

After First Crusade, prostitution, drinking, and partying became common in the newly established crusaders' states. Moreover, the Crusaders treated Jews and Muslims badly. The defeat was a terrible blow for the Muslims. In 1144 AD, the first crusader state " County of Edessa" was lost to the king of Mosul Imad -ud - Din Zengi. It was the first Crusader state to be established and to be destroyed. It was founded by King Baldwin 1 of Jerusalem(cousin of Godfrey of Bouillon). After the death of Imad ud Din, his son Noor ud din Zengi expanded the realm of his empire by seizing Damascus and Aleppo as well. The loss of the county of Edessa became the fundamental cause of the Second Crusade.

The second crusade was announced by Pope Eugene III. This time two kings organized their corps for crusades.

  • King Louis VII of France
  • King Conard III of Germany and his nephew Fredrick Barbarossa ( who later became the king of the Holy Roman Empire).

Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (wife of Louis of France) also aided the crusade. French abbot St Bernard Clairvaux also participated in the crusade on the orders of the pope by stimulating a large number of knights to be a part of this religious expedition.

This time again, the Byzantines betrayed the Crusaders. Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos allied with the Turks to attack the crusaders. armies of Both kings were defeated separately by the Seljuk Sultanate. Most of the armies were even not able to reach the Levant. They returned from Constantinople. Those who reached the Levant also returned from there after witnessing the massacres of Christians in Aleppo. They try to make a siege of Damascus but were defeated at Damascus. This crusade paved the way for Saladin to conquer Jerusalem from Christians which provoked the third crusade.

To know the brief history of the Byzantine empire, read the following article :

Byzantine Empire(395-1453AD) — Major Wars,Culture,Art , Legacy_You most likely didn’t know about it