Middle Ages Holy War: The Crusades: Part 1

About the long and violent wars in the Middle Ages known as the Crusades, a series of holy wars between Christians and Muslims in the fight for Jerusalem.


WHEN: 1095-1272

HOW: Many devout Christians believed that the world would come to a sudden end just 1,000 years after Christ. The word millennium means a thousand years. It comes from 2 Latin words: mille meaning thousand, and annus, year. As the end of the world was expected then, the millennium came to mean a sudden change to a better world. There was great misery then in Europe, and this prospect of the "millennium" brought relief to many a weary person. Many sold up their lands and journeyed to Palestine to be present in their Holy Land when the end of the world came.

But the end of the world did not come, and the thousands of Pilgrims who had journeyed to Jerusalem were ill-treated and harassed by the Turks. They returned to Europe full of anger and humiliation, and spread the story of their sufferings in the Holy Land. One famous pilgrim especially, Peter the Hermit, went about, staff in hand, preaching to the people to rescue their Holy City Jerusalem from the Muslims. Indignation and enthusiasm grew in Christendom, and, seeing this, the Pope decided to lead the movement.

About this time had come an appeal from Constantinople for help against the infidel. All Christendom, both Roman and Greek, now seemed to be ranged against the oncoming Turks. In 1095, a great Church council decided to proclaim a holy war against the Muslims for the recovery of the Holy City of Jerusalem. Thus began the Crusades--the fight of Christendom against Islam, of the Cross against the Crescent.

The rising power of the Seljuk Turks frightened Europe, and especially the Constantinople Government, which was directly threatened. Stories of the ill-treatment of Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem and Palestine by the Turks excited the people of Europe and filled them with anger. So a "holy war" was declared, and the Pope and the Church called upon all the Christian peoples of Europe to march to the rescue of the Holy City.

Thus began the Crusades in 1095 A.D., and for more than 150 years the struggle continued between Christianity and Islam. There was almost a continuous state of war, and wave after wave of Christian Crusaders came to fight and mostly to die in the Holy Land. This long warfare yielded no substantial results to the Crusaders. For a short while, Jerusalem was in their hands, but later it went back to the Turks, and there it remained. The chief result of the Crusades was to bring death and misery to millions of Christians and Muslims and again to soak Asia Minor and Palestine with human blood. In Europe the Crusades increased the idea of "Christendom"--the world of Christianity, as opposed to all non-Christians. Europe had a common idea and purpose--the recovery of the Holy Land from the so-called infidel. This common purpose filled people with enthusiasm, and many a man left home and property for the sake of the great cause. Many went with noble motives. Many were attracted by the promise of the Pope that those who went would have their sins forgiven. There were other reasons also for the Crusades. Rome wanted once and for all to become the boss of Constantinople. Remember that the Constantinople Church was different from that of Rome. It called itself the Orthodox Church and it disliked the Roman Church intensely and considered the Pope an upstart. The Pope wanted to put an end to this conceit of Constantinople and to bring it within his fold. Under the cloak of a holy war against the infidel Turk, he wanted to obtain what he had long desired. That is the way of politicians and those who consider themselves statesmen! It is well to remember this conflict between Rome and Constantinople, as it continually crops up during the Crusades.

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