Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Idioms, Wikipedia.


Crusades (kro͞oˈsādz), series of wars undertaken by European Christians between the 11th and 14th cent. to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims.

First Crusade


In the 7th cent., Jerusalem was taken by the caliph Umar. Pilgrimages (see pilgrim) were not cut off at first, but early in the 11th cent. the Fatimid caliph Hakim began to persecute the Christians and despoiled the Holy Sepulcher. Persecution abated after his death (1021), but relations remained strained and became more so when Jerusalem passed (1071) from the comparatively tolerant Egyptians to the Seljuk Turks, who in the same year defeated the Byzantine emperor Romanus IV at Manzikert.

Late in the 11th cent., Byzantine Emperor Alexius I, threatened by the Seljuk Turks, appealed to the West for aid. This was not the first appeal of the kind; while it may have helped to determine the time and the route of the First Crusade, 1095–99, its precise import is difficult to estimate. Modern historians have speculated that two internal problems also helped trigger the First Crusade: an attempt, begun by Pope Gregory VII, to reform the church, and the pressing need to strengthen the weakened Papacy itself. Direct impetus was given the crusade by the famous sermon of Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont (now Clermont-Ferrand) in 1095. Exaggerating the anti-Christian acts of the Muslims, Urban exhorted Christendom to go to war for the Sepulcher, promising that the journey would count as full penance and that the homes of the absent ones would be protected by a truce. The battle cry of the Christians, he urged, should be Deus volt [God wills it]. From the crosses that were distributed at this meeting the Crusaders took their name. Bishop Ademar of Le Puy-en-Velay was designated as papal legate for the crusade, and Count Raymond IV of Toulouse was the first of the leaders of the expedition to take the cross.

Proclaimed by many wandering preachers, notably Peter the Hermit, the movement spread through Europe and even reached Scandinavia. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 100,000 heeded the call and took up the cause of the First Crusade. The chief factors that contributed to this enthusiastic response were the increase in the population and prosperity of Western Europe; the high point that religious devotion had reached; the prospect of territorial expansion and riches for the nobles, and of more freedom for the lower classes; the colonial projects of the Normans (directed against the Byzantine Empire as much as against the Muslim world); the desire, particularly of the Italian cities, to expand trade with the East; and a general awakening to the lure of travel and adventure.

Course of the Crusade

The conflict between spiritual and material aims, apparent from the first, became increasingly serious. The organized host of the crusade was preceded in the spring of 1096 by several undisciplined hordes of French and German peasants. Walter Sans Avoir (Walter the Penniless) led a French group, which passed peacefully through Germany and Hungary but sacked the district of Belgrade. The Bulgarians retaliated, but Walter reached Constantinople by midsummer. He was joined there by the followers of Peter the Hermit, whose progress had been similar. A German group started off by robbing and massacring the Jews in the Rhenish cities and later so provoked the king of Hungary that he attacked and dispersed them.

The bands that had reached Constantinople were speedily transported by Alexius I to Asia Minor, where they were defeated by the Turks. The survivors either joined later bands or returned to Europe. Alexius began to take fright at the proportions the movement was assuming. When, late in 1096, the first of the princes, Hugh of Vermandois, a brother of Philip I of France, reached Constantinople, the emperor persuaded him to take an oath of fealty. Godfrey of Bouillon and his brothers Eustace and Baldwin (later Baldwin I of Jerusalem), Raymond IV of Toulouse, Bohemond I, Tancred, Robert of Normandy, and Robert II of Flanders arrived early in 1097. At Antioch all except Tancred and Raymond (who promised only to refrain from hostilities against the Byzantines) took the oath to Alexius, which bound them to accept Alexius as overlord of their conquests. Bohemond's subsequent breach of the oath was to cause endless wrangling.

The armies crossed to Asia Minor, took Nicaea (1097), defeated the Turks at Dorylaeum, and, after a seven-month siege, took Antioch (1098) and slaughtered nearly all of its inhabitants, including its Christians. The campaign was completed in July, 1099, by the taking of Jerusalem, where they massacred the city's Muslims and Jews. The election of Godfrey of Bouillon as defender of the Holy Sepulcher marked the beginning of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (see Jerusalem, Latin Kingdom of). A Latin patriarch was elected. Other fiefs, theoretically dependent on Jerusalem, were created as the crusade's leaders moved to expand their domains. These were the counties of Edessa (Baldwin) and Tripoli (Raymond) and the principality of Antioch (Bohemond).

The First Crusade thus ended in victory. It was the only crusade that achieved more than ephemeral results. Until the ultimate fall (1291) of the Latin Kingdom, the brunt of the fighting in the Holy Land fell on the Latin princes and their followers and on the great military orders, the Knights Hospitalers and the Knights Templars, that arose out of the Crusades.

The Later Crusades

The later Crusades were for the most part only expeditions to assist those who already were in the Holy Land and defend the lands they had captured; they are a single current, and dates are given them only for convenience.

Second Crusade

The Second Crusade, 1147–49, was preached by St. Bernard of Clairvaux after the fall (1144) of Edessa to the Turks. It was led by Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III, whose army set out first, and by King Louis VII of France. Both armies passed through the Balkans and pillaged the territory of the Byzantine emperor, Manuel I, who provided them with transportation to Asia Minor in order to be rid of them. The German contingent, already decimated by the Turks, merged (1148) with the French, who had fared only slightly better, at Acre (Akko). A joint attack on Damascus failed because of jealousy and, possibly, treachery among the Latin princes of the Holy Land. Conrad returned home in 1148 and was followed (1149) by Louis. The Second Crusade thus ended in dismal failure.

Third Crusade

The Third Crusade, 1189–92, followed on the capture (1187) of Jerusalem by Saladin and the defeat of Guy of Lusignan, Reginald of Châtillon, and Raymond of Tripoli at Hattin. The crusade was preached by Pope Gregory VIII but was directed by its leaders—Richard I of England, Philip II of France, and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I. Frederick set out first, but was hindered by the Byzantine emperor, Isaac II, who had formed an alliance with Saladin. Frederick forced his way to the Bosporus, sacked Adrianople (Edirne), and compelled the Greeks to furnish transportation to Asia Minor. However, he died (1190) in Cilicia, and only part of his forces went on to the Holy Land. Richard and Philip, uneasy allies, arrived at Acre in 1191. The city had been besieged since 1189, but the siege had been prolonged by dissensions between the two chief Christian leaders, Guy of Lusignan and Conrad, marquis of Montferrat, both of whom claimed the kingship of Jerusalem.

The city was nevertheless starved out by July, 1191; shortly afterward Philip went home. Richard removed his base to Jaffa, which he fortified, and rebuilt Ascalon (Ashqelon), which the Muslims had burned down. In 1192 he made a three-year truce with Saladin; the Christians retained Jaffa with a narrow strip of coast (all that remained of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem) and the right of free access to the Holy Sepulcher. Antioch and Tripoli were still in Christian hands; Cyprus, which Richard I had wrested (1191) from the Byzantines while on his way to the Holy Land, was given to Guy of Lusignan. In Oct., 1192, Richard left the Holy Land, thus ending the crusade.

Fourth, Children's, and Fifth Crusades

Pope Innocent III launched the Fourth Crusade, 1202–1204, which was totally diverted from its original course. The Crusaders, led mostly by French and Flemish nobles and spurred on by Fulk of Neuilly, assembled (1202) near Venice. To pay some of their passage to Palestine they aided Doge Enrico Dandolo (see under Dandolo, family) and his Venetian forces in recovering the Christian city of Zara (Zadar) on the Dalmatian coast from the Hungarians. The sack of Zara (1202), for which Innocent III excommunicated the crusaders, prefaced more serious political schemes. Alexius (later Alexius IV), son of the deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II and brother-in-law of Philip of Swabia, a sponsor of the crusade, joined the army at Zara and persuaded the leaders to help him depose his uncle, Alexius III. In exchange, he promised large sums of money, aid to the Crusaders in conquering Egypt, and the union of Roman and Eastern Christianity under the control of the Roman church. The actual decision to turn on Constantinople was largely brought about by Venetian pressure. The fleet arrived at the Bosporus in 1203; Alexius III fled, and Isaac II and Alexius IV were installed as joint emperors while the fleet remained outside the harbor. In 1204, Alexius V overthrew the emperors. As a result the Crusaders stormed the city, sacked it amid horrendous rape and murder, divided the rich spoils with the Venetians (who brought much of it back to Venice) according to a prearranged plan, and set up the Latin Empire of Constantinople (see Constantinople, Latin Empire of). The Crusader Baldwin I of Flanders was elected first Latin Emperor of Constantinople, but within a year he was captured and killed by the Bulgarians and succeeded by his brother Henry.

There followed the pathetic interlude of the Children's Crusade, 1212. Led by a visionary French peasant boy, Stephen of Cloyes, children embarked at Marseilles, hoping that they would succeed in the cause that their elders had betrayed. According to later sources, they were sold into slavery by unscrupulous skippers. Another group, made up of German children, went to Italy; most of them perished of hunger and disease.

Soon afterward Innocent III and his successor, Honorius III, began to preach the Fifth Crusade, 1217–21. King Andrew II of Hungary, Duke Leopold VI of Austria, John of Brienne, and the papal legate Pelasius were among the leaders of the expedition, which was aimed at Egypt, the center of Muslim strength. Damietta (Dumyat) was taken in 1219 but had to be evacuated again after the defeat (1221) of an expedition against Cairo.

Sixth Crusade

The Sixth Crusade, 1228–29, undertaken by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, was simply a peaceful visit, in the course of which the emperor made a truce with the Muslims, securing the partial surrender of Jerusalem and other holy places. Frederick crowned himself king of Jerusalem, but, occupied with Western affairs, he did nothing when the Muslims later reoccupied the city. Thibaut IV of Navarre and Champagne, however, reopened (1239) the wars, which were continued by Richard, earl of Cornwall. They were unable to compose the quarrels between the Knights Hospitalers and Knights Templars. In 1244 the Templars, who advocated an alliance with the sultan of Damascus rather than with Egypt, prevailed.

Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Crusades

A treaty (1244) with Damascus restored Palestine to the Christians, but in the same year the Egyptian Muslims and their Turkish allies took Jerusalem and utterly routed the Christians at Gaza. This event led to the Seventh Crusade, 1248–54, due solely to the idealistic enterprise of Louis IX of France. Egypt again was the object of attack. Damietta fell again (1249); and an expedition to Cairo miscarried (1250), Louis himself being captured. After his release from captivity, he spent four years improving the fortifications left to the Christians in the Holy Land.

The fall (1268) of Jaffa and Antioch to the Muslims caused Louis IX to undertake the Eighth Crusade, 1270, which was cut short by his death in Tunisia. The Ninth Crusade, 1271–72, was led by Prince Edward (later Edward I of England). He landed at Acre but retired after concluding a truce. In 1289 Tripoli fell to the Muslims, and in 1291 Acre, the last Christian stronghold, followed.

Aftermath and Heritage of the Crusades

After the fall of Acre no further Crusades were undertaken in the Holy Land, although several were preached. Already, however, the term crusade was also being used for other expeditions, sanctioned by the pope, against heathens and heretics. Albert the Bear and Henry the Lion led (1147) a crusade against the Wends in NE Germany; Hermann von Salza in 1226 received crusading privileges for the Teutonic Knights against the Prussians; the pope proclaimed (1228) a crusade against Emperor Frederick II; and several crusades were fought against the Albigenses and the Hussites (see Hussite Wars).

War against the Turks remained the chief problem of Eastern Europe for centuries after 1291. Campaigns akin to crusades were those of John Hunyadi, John of Austria (d. 1578), and John III of Poland. In their consequences, the crusades in Europe were as important as those in the Holy Land. However, although the Crusades in the Holy Land failed in their chief purpose, they exercised an incalculable influence on Western civilization by bringing the West into closer contact with new modes of living and thinking, by stimulating commerce, by giving fresh impetus to literature and invention, and by increasing geographical knowledge. The crusading period advanced the development of national monarchies in Europe, because secular leaders deprived the pope of the power of decision in what was to have been the highest Christian enterprise.

In the Levant the Crusades left a lasting imprint, not least on the Byzantine Empire, which was disastrously weakened. Physical reminders of the Crusades remain in the monumental castles built by the Crusaders, such as that of Al Karak. The chief material beneficiaries of the Crusades were Venice and the other great Mediterranean ports.


Outstanding among eyewitness acounts are those of William of Tyre, Richard of Devizes, Geoffroi de Villehardouin, Jean de Joinville, Anna Comnena, Fulcher of Chartres, and Nicetas Acominatus.

The chief collection of sources is Recueil des historiens des croisades (ed. by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belle-Lettres, 16 vol., 1841–1906). For sources in translation see E. Peters, ed., Christian Society and the Crusades (1971) and The First Crusade (1971). Treatments in English include S. Runciman, A History of the Crusades (3 vol., 1951–54, repr. 1962–66); D. Queller, The Fourth Crusade (1977); H. E. Mayer, The Crusades (2d ed. 1988); K. M. Setton, ed., The History of the Crusades (6 vol., 2d ed., 1969–89); T. Asbridge, The First Crusade (2004); J. Phillips, The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople (2004); C. Tyerman, Fighting for Christendom (2004); J. N. Claster, Sacred Violence (2009); J. Phillips, Holy Warriors (2010); J. Rubenstein, Armies of Heaven (2011); P. Frankopan, The First Crusade (2012); N. Paul and S. Yeager, ed., Remembering the Crusades (2012); B. A. Catlos, Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors (2014); M. Lambert, God's Armies: Crusade and Jihad (2016).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
Enlarge picture
Engraving entitled “Procession of the Crusaders Around the Walls of Jerusalem,” from the 1892 edition of the Illustrated History of England. Fortean Picture Library.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In the early years of the eleventh century the Christian Church had already split into two distinct bodies. The Eastern Church was fighting against the enemy they called "infidel Muslim Turks," who had conquered Jerusalem in 638 and were now knocking on the door of Constantinople, home of Byzantine (Eastern) Christianity. With this as a background, Pope Urban II gave a speech on November 27, 1095, in Clermont, France. He called for the nobility of Western Europe to form armies, head east, assist the Byzantine brothers, and liberate the Holy City. The response exceeded his wildest expectations. Waves of people decided to "go crusading." It must have seemed like a great deal. Serfs, trying in vain to support their families with the income from their few small acres, were promised indulgences, free food and board, and a chance to see the world. Waves of inspired people headed east in the centuries to come. Fighting men, yes, but also women (many of whom apparently had visions of a steady income through prostitution) and children got caught up in religious fervor. Some armies, financed and led by wealthy, educated lords, did very well. Against all expectations they even captured Jerusalem on July 15, 1099, establishing Crusader states that would last for a few hundred years. Others, however, were a disgrace. Hopping off the boat in Constantinople, they killed anybody that didn't look like a European Christian, including turbaned Byzantine Christians, Jews, and innocent Arab merchants.

Although we can mark the beginning of the crusades, the end is subject to debate. The Spanish defeated the Muslim kingdom of Granada in 1492, recovering the peninsula the Muslims had seized back in 711. One of the reasons "Columbus sailed the ocean blue" was to find a new route to Jerusalem. Another was to acquire wealth to help the Spanish kings carry on the fight.

As late as 1798, Napoleon was "crusading" on Malta. Perhaps even 1945 might be considered the end of the Crusades. That was the year the Crusade tax, imposed on local dioceses during the eleventh century to help fund the first Crusade, was officially abolished in the Roman Catholic diocese of Pueblo, Colorado.

It is easy to criticize the Crusades. It is perhaps more difficult to explain why they came about. The Islamic jihad expanded rapidly following the death of the prophet Muhammad. In 635 Islam had conquered Damascus. Persia followed in 636, Jerusalem in 638, all of Egypt by 640. Spain, North Africa, the Middle East, India, Pakistan, and even parts of China quickly followed. Some historians have speculated that, if Charles Martel had not stemmed the tide at the battle of Tours in 732, all of Western Europe might have fallen to the Islamic offensive. There were undoubtedly some Crusaders who sincerely believed their violence toward the Muslims was justified by God's will; many Crusaders, however, were expressing hatred and bigotry toward an unfamiliar religion and culture, using religious doctrine as an excuse to seize territory and riches.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



expansionist campaigns in the Orient carried on by Western European feudal lords between 1096 and 1270; the slogan for the Crusades was liberation of the Christian holy places in Palestine from Muslim control.

Participants normally wore the sign of the cross on their clothing (hence the term “crusade”). Serving as the occasion for the invasion was the Seljuk Turks’ conquest during the last third of the 11th century of many Byzantine possessions in Asia Minor and also of Jerusalem, the “holy city” of the Christians according to church tradition. Byzantium turned to the West several times for military aid against the Seljuks. The papacy took advantage of this and became both the ideological inspirer and the immediate organizer of the Crusades. The popes strove to fan religious fanaticism in order to consolidate and expand the influence of the Catholic Church and to make the Orthodox Church subordinate to Rome. This policy corresponded to the interests of the ruling class. The impoverished knights, who made up the main bulk of the Crusaders, and the big seigneurs looked forward to the conquest of the economically more developed countries of the Middle East, which were long known to them from traveling merchants and pilgrims. (Travelers’ tales of the riches of the East had inflamed the imagination of feudal lords of all ranks.) The first Crusades also included poor peasants, who sought relief abroad from feudal oppression and poverty. The Italian cities participating in the Crusades, mainly Venice and Genoa, sought commercial superiority in relations with the Levant.

The First Crusade (1096–99) was proclaimed in 1095 in Clermont by Pope Urban II. The peasantry participated extensively in the campaign. The Crusade ended in the conquest of Jerusalem in July 1099. Jerusalem then became the capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem founded by the Crusaders. The Second Crusade (1147–49) was prompted by the Seljuks’ recapture of the city of Edessa (taken by participants of the First Crusade) in 1144. The Crusade was headed by the French king Louis VII and the German king Conrad III. It ended in failure.

The Third Crusade (1189–92), provoked by the conquest of Jerusalem in 1187 by the Egyptian sultan Saladin, also ended in failure. This Crusade was led by the German emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, the French king Philip II Augustus, and the English king Richard I the Lionhearted. The growing conflicts in the Mediterranean between the Western European states (which gave rise to conflicts among the Crusaders themselves) and between the Western European states and Byzantium were the major reasons for the Crusaders’ failures in the 12th century.

On the Fourth Crusade, organized by Pope Innocent III in 1199, French, German, and Italian Crusaders changed course from the originally planned destination (Egypt) and subjected Christian cities to plunder and conquest (Zadar in Dalmatia in November 1202 and Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium, in April 1204). They then founded the Latin Empire. The events of 1202 to 1204 made quite clear the predatory essence of the Crusades; the aggressive aims of the Crusaders were openly revealed. The Children’s Crusades of 1212, which cost the lives of tens of thousands of children, were a consequence of the fatal influence of religious fanaticism. (Some perished during a storm in the Mediterranean Sea; others were sold into slavery in Egypt by shipowners.)

The other Crusades (the fifth through eighth) had a clearly expressed aggressive character. The Fifth Crusade (1217–21) against Egypt included the Austrian duke Leopold VI and the Hungarian king Andrew II among its participants; it ended without any results. The Sixth Crusade (1228–29), headed by the German emperor Frederick II, enabled the Christians once again to take possession of Jerusalem (by the peace treaty of 1229 with the Egyptian sultan). However, in 1244 the city was again conquered by the Muslims. The Seventh Crusade (1248–54) to Egypt and the Eighth Crusade (1270) to Tunis were both led by the French king Louis IX (St. Louis). Both ended in complete failure.

During the period of the Crusades, Mediterranean trade grew significantly. It was concentrated chiefly in the hands of Italian and southern French merchants, who enjoyed extensive privileges in the states of the Crusaders. Links with the Orient enabled the countries of Western Europe to adopt a number of technical, economic, and cultural achievements from the Orient. At the same time, these prolonged and bloody wars caused huge human and material losses in the European countries, and this had negative consequences for their development. The Crusades inflicted enormous damage on the peoples of the Orient. They were compelled to experience all the horrors of foreign incursions—ruin and oppression at the hands of the feudal lords of the West.

The campaigns of the German feudal lords against the Slavs and other peoples of the Baltic and the Albigensian Wars are also often called Crusades.


Zaborov, M. A. Krestovye pokhody. Moscow, 1956.
Zaborov, M. A. Istoriografiia krestovykh pokhodov (XV-XIX vv.). Moscow, 1971.
Waas, A. Geschichte der Kreuzzüge, vols. 1–2. Freiburg, 1956.
Rousset, P. Histoire des croisades. Paris, 1957.
A History of the Crusades, [vol. l]-2. [Philadelphia, 1955–62.]
Mayer, H. E. Bibliographic zür Geschichte der Kreuzzüge. Hanover, 1960.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The first example of indirect violence in the Crusades is the displacement of the people.
Tyerman's scholarship is excellent, and his treatment of the Second Crusade may well be one of the most comprehensive in print.
Tyerman avoids the controversy of the influence of the Crusades on events in the Middle East today.
What is lost is any recollection that at the time of the Crusades, an ascendant Islam was occupying Spain and Portugal--after failing at Poitiers in the 8th century to take France.
On another level, however, in his monumental preaching of the First Crusade, Urban went far beyond the parameters of traditional Christian "just war" discourse.
Catholic-Muslim dialogue would have been put on a new and positive footing by having the "leading cleric" of the Western world publicly repent of the errors of the Crusades. It would also have put Christians in the United States and elsewhere on notice that the language of promoting Western "antiterrorist" wars against the Muslim world in the name of a "crusade" (the term George W.
Hill's ministry has prepared an entire booklet, titled "Crusade Preparation Manual," that advises local churches on the best way to bring Hill to town to reach public school students.
The notion that the Crusades were "brutal and unprovoked attacks against a sophisticated and tolerant Muslim world" smacks of historical revisionism.
Bush was not the first American leader to summon images of the Crusades. Eisenhower, as allied Commander-in-Chief, called his World War II campaign against the Fascist powers a Crusade for Democracy.
Outspoken Cabinet Minister and Birmingham MP Clare Short has criticised President Bush for using the word 'crusade' to describe action against the terrorists who attacked New York and Washington.
The PMRC episode has echoes in today's left/right crusades against Goth rock and gangsta rap--and, for that matter, against violent or vulgar movies, TV shows, and video games.
This book brings the Crusades to life: the background.