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Introduction to the Crusades

The Crusades begin in reaction to Pope Urban II's call to help the Byzantine Empire reclaim land from Muslim rule (especially Jerusalem).

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] We are in the year 1095. Just for context, this is roughly half a century after the Great Schism between the Eastern Orthodox church in Constantinople, or centered at Constantinople, and what eventually gets known as the Roman Catholic church, or the Latin church, centered at Rome. We have the Byzantine Empire continuing to lose territory. Remember in the 7th century as Islam expanded out over Arabia, it quickly overran much of the territory in the Holy Land that at the time was controlled by the Byzantines, Byzantine being another word for the Eastern Roman Empire. By the time of this map, Islam had been in control of the Middle East, the Holy Land, North Africa, and even a good chunk of the Iberian Peninsula for several hundred years, as much as over 400 years. As we get closer to this time period, you have the Seljuq Turks continuing to eat in to the Byzantine Empire and taking most of the Anatolian peninsula. Also at this time, remember, we are in the high Middle Ages, which is a time when, especially western Europe, is on the rise. There's increased agricultural productivity, the population is increasing. And it's in this context that the emperor of the Byzantines, the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire looks for help. Emperor Alexios I sends a delegation, sends an ambassador to Pope Urban II, and he essentially asks for some mercenaries to help him retake some of Anatolia from the Muslims. Well, Pope Urban II sees an opportunity here. It's been roughly half a century since the Great Schism. He has his own internal struggles going on and struggles with some neighboring states. He sees this, potentially, as an opportunity to focus attention elsewhere. And so later that year, in November of 1095, he makes a sermon at Claremont in the kingdom of France. There are varying accounts of his speech, but this is one of them. I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ's heralds to publish this everywhere and to perse, which is another way of saying to persuade, all people of whatever rank, foot soldiers, and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians, so to the Byzantines, and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends. When he's talking about vile race, he's talking about the Muslims who have control of the Anatolian peninsula and of the Holy Land. I saw those to those who are present. It is meant also for those who are absent. Moreover, Christ commands it. And according to this account, he goes onto say, all who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. So this is this idea of indulgences, where hey you do something for me, I can forgive your sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested. O what a disgrace if such a despised and base race, once again he's talking about the Muslims, which worships demons, should conquer a people which has the faith of omnipotent God and is made glorious with the name of Christ. Pope Urban II's speech has an impact larger than even he expects. Throughout Western Europe, news of his speech, news of his call to go and retake the Holy Land, to fight against this despised and base race, the Muslims, takes hold. And before the Pope is even able to organize a formal army, you have someone by the name of Peter the Hermit lead what's called the People's Crusade in 1096. And this is often considered the first part of the first crusade. As they march through the Rhineland in what is now Germany, they massacre Jews, several thousand, calling them Christ killers on their way to the Holy Land, and this is a theme that you will see throughout the Crusades. Even though the crusaders ostensibly were there to help the Byzantines, ostensibly to take back the Holy Land, as they travel through foreign lands, they often wreak a lot of havoc, even sometimes on the Byzantines themselves, but the People's Crusade itself was very unsuccessful. By the time they got to the Anatolian peninsula, remember, Peter the Hermit was leading, there were women, there were children, there were untrained peasants fighting, they were massacred by the Turks when they got to the Anatolian peninsula. But eventually, the Pope was able to organize a more formal, what eventually gets called First Crusade, and once again, it surpasses the Pope's expectations and far surpasses Alexios, the Byzantine emperor's expectations, and it's even a little bit frightening to him where you have on the order of 100,000 soldiers coming from western Europe taking these various routes by both land and by sea. And in 1099, they are eventually able to take Jerusalem from the Muslims, and both in their taking of Antioch and Jerusalem, most historical accounts say it was quite bloody with significant chunks of the cities being massacred. This is a later image of what it might have looked like when they conquered Jerusalem. And from that time period through most of the 12th century, they maintain control of the Holy Land. This is what the map looks like in 1135, and you might notice some changes now. The Byzantine Empire has reconquered chunks of the Anatolian peninsula, in particular the west and the north, and you see these blue regions here which are known as Crusader Kingdoms. We can zoom in on these Crusader Kingdoms, or Crusader states, and what's interesting about them, even though these western European crusaders, now they weren't called crusaders at first, but they wore a cross on their outfits and were eventually called crusaders, even though their goal at first was apparently to help retake land for the Byzantines, when they were able to take the land, for the most part, they kept it. And they set up these Crusader states, or these Crusader kingdoms that you see right over here that they're going to stay in control of for most of the 12th century. As you get into the middle of the 12th century, the Muslims are able to take back a few significant cities, which is going to catalyze the Second Crusades, but then as we get to 1187, the Muslim ruler Saladin is able to take back Jerusalem, which as we'll see in the next video, will instigate the Third Crusade.