High Middle Ages (1000-1200)

The Crusades: 1095-1204

The Crusaders now found that they needed to appoint a leader to administer their new conquest. Since Raymond of Toulouse and Bohemond were rivals, neither could become the ruler of Jerusalem. Thus, the nobles settled on Godfrey. Avoiding the title 'king', he did homage to the city's Catholic patriarch as 'defender of the Holy Sepulcher'. His brother Baldwin kept Edessa, just as Bohemond was left Antioch. Raymond became the count of Tripoli. A year later, Godfrey died, so Baldwin succeeded to the rule of Jerusalem (1100-1118). With the help of Italian naval squadrons from Venice, Pisa, and Genoa, he captured the Muslim coastal towns of Palestine, then continued to divide the area into fiefs, keeping Jerusalem, Tyre, and Acre as royal domain.

The Muslim reaction took more than a generation to emerge, and this was the high point of the crusading states. From the 1140s, though, it was uninterruptedly downhill. The Seljukid ruler of Mosul, Zengi, ultimately undertook the duty of Jihad to expel the infidel from Muslim lands. In 1144, he recaptured Edessa, shocking the West and the Pope into calling for the Second Crusade. Bernard of Clairvaux was tireless in his preaching, and convinced Conrad III of Germany as well as Louis VII of France to lead armies east. Louis was not able to attract many French counts to his host, though, and Conrad was at that time feuding with German princes. Also, Roger II of Sicily was at that time in a power struggle with the Byzantine Emperor Michael, who was an ally of Conrad. This doomed the Crusade form the start. Just outside Nicaea, Conrad's army was nearly annihilated, forcing the king to set out for Palestine by boat with the remains of his forces. Louis marched through Asia Minor, but lost much of his forces and most of his supplies when attacked by Turks at the passes of Laodicia. He then sailed for Antioch, leaving his infantry behind, which was soon massacred by Muslim forces. When they met in Jerusalem the two kings decided to lay siege to the Seljukid stronghold at Damascus. When Conrad and Louis began to quarrel, though, Conrad returned to Germany and the Crusade fizzled, having accomplished nothing.

Within two decades, the West's greatest crusader-period nemesis emerged as a powerful Muslim leader. Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, known as Saladin, was a Kurdish warlord of the Damascus ruling household. Sent to wrest Egypt from the Shi'i Fatimids in 1169, he had been able to take Syria for himself as well by 1174. By the 1180s, both Egypt and Syria were his, and he took Jihad, or counter-Crusade, very seriously. In 1187, he decided to attack the Kingdom of Jerusalem directly, beginning with a siege of Tiberius. Jerusalem's king, Guy de Lusignon, then depleted all the garrisons of the realm in order to muster forces to meet Salah al-Din in battle. Refusing to await his enemy in well- watered and -provisioned terrain, Guy marched forward into the desert east of Tiberius, finally halting at Hattin. They were exhausted and starving, and the Ayyubid forces on the hills above them harassed them all night. The next day the battle proper began, and Salah al-Din was soon victorious. Only Raymond of Tripoli escaped, the rest of the army destroyed. The Latin kingdom was destroyed as a military challenge, and Ayyubid forces took all of Palestine and Syria's interior, including Jerusalem. Only a small coastal littoral remained to the Christians. A Third Crusade was promptly preached in 1188.

Though the kings of France, England, and Germany all took the cross, only Frederick I could set out by 1189. He was a formidable adversary for the Turks and Ayyubids. Employing infantry with long-range bows to hold off the mounted Muslim archers, he also understood how to best deploy cavalry to charge lesser- armed opponents. Throughout his progress across Anatolia, he was able to fight off Turkish advances, and was able to storm Konya, the central Anatolian capital of the Seljuks of Rum. Shortly thereafter, however, Frederick drowned in the Calycadnus River. At this point Richard the Lionheart and Philip II Augustus arrived in the East. Arguing with each other incessantly, they were able to see to the capture of the port of Acre, after which Philip returned to France. Richard was a worthy opponent to Salah al-Din. The latter was not able to recover Acre, while the former marched within sight of Jerusalem, but was not strong enough to take it by force. Negotiating a truce with the Sultan, Richard ensured that Christian pilgrims would be allowed free access to Jerusalem, and that the port of Jaffa and other coastal towns were returned to Latin nobles.


A military expedition to a destination thousands of miles from home was at first glance an undertaking beyond the capacity of medieval states, or alliances of states. When we consider that it was to be led not by kings of unitary polities, but by feudal nobles under the overall command of the Papacy, the adventure seems even more unlikely to have succeeded. But it did, and much of this had to do with what people thought they were doing when they left France, Italy, or even Germany from 1095 onwards. First let us consider the Papal attitude. What did Pope Urban II believe he was calling for art Clermont in 1095?

For Pope Urban, the Crusade was a natural outgrowth of church reform and previous papal policy. A Cluniac Prior and secretary to Gregory VII, for him moral purification of Christendom went hand in hand with broadening the horizons of the Church's concerns and worldly involvement. Ironically, no exact transcription exists of his speech at Clermont. A few important questions present themselves: 1) What kind of army did he want, and who was to lead it? 2) What was the nature of the campaign to be? 3) Was Jerusalem mentioned as a target? 4) What was the benefit to those involved? 5) Was his idea novel? Regarding the first question it is perfectly clear that in his mind, the Pope was to be the commander-in-chief of the Crusading Movement, with a papal legate the in-theater commander. While recognizing the martial expertise of the knights, he did not want a secular cast to be thrown over the venture. This partly explains his unpreparedness to lift the ban of excommunication on European monarchs who might 'hijack' the Crusade.

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