Middle Ages Holy War: The Crusades: Part 2

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

Another reason for the Crusades was a commercial one. The business people, especially of the growing ports of Venice and Genoa, wanted them because their trade was suffering. The Seljuk Turks had closed many of their trade routes to the East.

The common people, of course, knew nothing about these reasons. No one told them. Politicians usually hide their real reasons and talk pompously of religion and justice and truth and the like. It was so at the time of the Crusades. It is so still. People were taken in then; and still the great majority of people are taken in by the soft talk of politicians.

So large numbers gathered for the Crusades. Among them were good and earnest people; but there were also many who were far from good who were attracted by the hope of plunder. It was a strange collection of pious and religious men and the riffraff of the population, who were capable of every kind of crime. Indeed, these Crusaders, or many of them, going out to serve in what was to them a noble cause, committed the vilest and most disgusting of crimes. Many were so busy with plundering and misbehaving on the way that they never reached anywhere near Palestine. Some took to massacring Jews on the way; some even massacred their brother Christians.

Fed up with their misbehavior, sometimes the peasantry of the Christian countries they passed through rose and attacked them, killing many and driving the others away.

The Crusaders at last managed to reach Palestine under a Norman, Godfrey of Bouillon. Jerusalem fell to them and then the "carnage lasted for a week." There was a terrible massacre. A French eyewitness of this says that "under the portico of the mosque the blood was knee deep and reached the horses' bridles." Godfrey became King of Jerusalem.

Seventy years later, Jerusalem was retaken from the Christians by Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt. This excited the people of Europe again and several Crusades followed. This time the Kings and Emperors of Europe came in person, but they had little success. They quarreled among themselves for precedence and were jealous of each other. It is a dismal story of ghastly and cruel war and petty intrigue and sordid crime. But sometimes the better side of human nature prevailed over this horror, and incidents took place when enemies behaved with courtesy and chivalry to each other. Among the foreign kings in Palestine was Richard of England, Coeur de Lion, the Lion-Hearted, noted for his physical strength and courage. Saladin was also a great fighter, and famous for his chivalry. Even the Crusaders who fought Saladin came to appreciate this chivalry of his. There is a story that once Richard was very ill and was suffering from the heat. Saladin, hearing of this, arranged to send him fresh snow and ice from the mountains. Ice could not be made artificially then by freezing water, as we do now. So natural snow and ice from the mountains had to be taken by swift messengers. . . .

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