The Crusades

Essential Question

What were the causes of the Crusades and their effects on the population of Europe?

The Crusades

The Crusades were a long series of wars between Christians and Muslims in Southwest Asia. The Europeans fought the Muslims to retake Palestine. The main impact of the wars was divisive. The Crusades hurt the trust European Jews had developed with Christians. The Crusades also caused a major split between the Muslim and Christian worlds. Those tensions are still felt today.

The Significance of Jerusalem

The city of Jerusalem has been a source of admiration and frustration for millions of people around the world since biblical times. Christians, Muslims, and Jews all see the city as sacred and holy to their faith. As a result, all three religious groups have warred extensively over Jerusalem, starting with the First Crusade in 1095 and continuing as the source of violence across the Middle East today. While all groups strive to find peace today, the struggle for control of Jerusalem emerged for control of a city that all three groups claim as their own.

Judaism as a faith is several thousand years older than either Christianity or Islam and, as a result, Jews have the oldest claim to the city. To the Jewish people, Jerusalem was established as the capital of the Jewish nation, Israel, by King David over 3,000 years ago. It was also the location of their First Temple was built by David's very powerful son, King Solomon.

The city is sacred to Christians since Jesus performed miracles, preached to the poor, was crucified, and rose from the dead here. Today, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre rests over the location in the city where Jesus was crucified.

Muslims claim Jerusalem as their own since, according to the holy Koran, Mohammed rose to heaven here; the Dome of the Rock is an Islamic shrine that was built on the ground where this is believed to have happened.

Religious violence in the Middle East can be traced back to how Jews, Christians, and Muslims all have a different vision for Jerusalem. While it has been over 800 years since the Crusades came to an end, the city still remains divided into four distinct quarters with the sole purpose of maintaining peace.

The Buildup to the Crusades

Until the 11th century Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived peacefully behind Jerusalem's city walls, a city controlled by the Muslim Abbasid Dynasty. Travel to Jerusalem's holy sites was allowed, encouraged, and done in peace; Christians traveled to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus was crucified, and Muslims pilgrims frequented the Dome of the Rock, the site where Mohammed rose to heaven. However, peaceful travel stopped with the arrival of a new Muslim dynasty from the east known as the Seljuk Turks.

In general, the Muslims did not bother Christians who visited the region. In the late 1000s, however, a new group of Turkish Muslims captured the city of Jerusalem, the Seljuks. Pilgrims returning to Europe said that these Turks had attacked them. This worried European Christians for two reasons. First, Christians feared the Seljuks would prevent Christians from traveling to Jerusalem. Second, Europeans questioned if these new Seljuks would continue their expansion west and threaten the Christian-led Byzantine Empire.

Almost simultaneously with the arrival of the Seljuks travel to the holy land became less safe. Christians were often attacked, sometimes even killed, on pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Byzantine leaders also grew concerned when the Seljuks showed no sign of ending their conquest as they pushed west into Asia Minor; a series of wars were launched by Byzantine emperors to repel the Seljuks that culminated in a massive defeat at the Battle of Manzikert. The Seljuks were not to be stopped, so in 1094 Byzantine emperor Alexios Komnenos crafted a letter, a desperate plea for help, to Pope Urban II.

Pope Urban responded by calling a meeting; the Council of Clermont was held in Clermont, France in 1095. Although the Byzantines were Eastern Orthodox Christians and not Roman Catholic, the pope agreed to help. Urban proclaimed that a crusade would take place to both save the Byzantine Empire and restore safe travel to Jerusalem for traveling Christians. Anyone who went to fight was guaranteed admission into heaven. Serfs, knights, and lords all throughout Europe prepared to leave their manors to follow Urban's commands.

The First Crusade

Pope Urban's call to repel the invading Seljuks prompted the first of nine total attempts by European Christians to reclaim the holy land. Crusaders from all over Europe flocked to France to prepare to fight. Many peasants set out on the First Crusade.

The First Crusade started in November 1095 and the 30,000 Crusaders who traveled faced an arduous journey. Since Crusaders did not control the ports on the eastern Mediterranean, traveling by water was not an option until they had secured the region. Most marched over 2,000 miles with heavy armor, weapons, and little food or fresh water. The Crusaders used the holy war as an excuse to kill many Jews along the way to Palestine. Some Christians at the time blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus.

Crusaders underestimated the length of the expedition and malnourishment plagued the majority of soldiers; with no freshwater, soldiers were forced to drink each other's urine and even the blood of their horses and donkeys. In June of 1099, the weak, sick, and exhausted Christian army finally arrived in the Holy Land. Under any other circumstances the Christian Crusaders would have been easily defeated, but by the time they arrived in the region the Seljuk dynasty had begun to crumble. What once stood as a staunch, unified force had broken into chaos with little organization. As a result, the Europeans were able to easily surround Jerusalem and breach the city's walls. Upon entering, Crusaders cut down anyone they saw; Muslims and Jews were slaughtered in multitudes and left one Crusader to write that the city was "ankle-deep in blood." The city now belonged to the Christians

The Crusaders established four kingdoms in the region to further buffer the city against invasions: Jerusalem, Antioch, Edessa, and Tripoli. Castles and forts were constructed, however, they soon would be overrun, again, by an invading Muslim force. The First Crusade would be the only one that the Christians would win.

The Second and Third Crusades

Following the European victory at the First Crusade, the Christian Crusaders established four permanent settlements to further protect the city. One of those settlements, Edessa, was overrun by the Zengid Dynasty, one of the several small kingdoms that emerged from the disorganized Seljuk Dynasty. Edessa fell to Zengid forces in 1144 and it prompted Pope Eugene III to call for a Second Crusade. Many peasants and knights responded to the call, however, unlike the First Crusade, several kings led troops into battle, most notably Louis VII of France and Emperor Conrad II of Germany.

However, this additional leadership would not matter as Christian forces argued repeatedly about decisions along the way, and even in Jerusalem, the Christians were split about how to defend the city. The Battle of Hattin showcased just how disorganized the Christians were; after bitter disagreements within the Christian armies, the Crusaders were lured away from a reliable water source where they were exhausted by Muslim forces. The Muslims used their knowledge of the terrain to allow nature to weaken the invading armies. Christians lost the Second Crusade in much the same way they won the first.

The embarrassing loss at Hattin and the ensuing loss of Jerusalem led to a Third Crusade in 1189. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa responded by gathering 100,000 men, including over 20,000 knights. However, Barbarossa was swept away in a strong current in the Saleph River before ever reaching Jerusalem; his heavy armor made him unable to swim and much of his army panicked and returned home. Luckily for the Crusaders, a second army led by Richard the Lionheart (Richard I) quickly advanced through Asia Minor and reclaimed many older parts of the Byzantine Empire. Upon reaching Jerusalem, though, Richard and his men came up short and were forced to sign a peace treaty with a rising Muslim leader named Saladin. It was Saladin who defeated the Christians just a few years earlier at Hattin. The deal was simple: Christians would keep the cities they captured in Asia Minor while Muslims maintained control over Jerusalem; however, the Muslims were required to allow safe travel to the city. By 1291 Muslims had taken back Palestine. The Crusades were over.

The First Crusade

SHEG-What happened when Crusaders entered Jerusalem during the First Crusade_.pptx

Historians create historical accounts, in part, by comparing multiple documents and perspectives of different people. Focusing on perspective is important because it helps evaluate possible biases and the trustworthiness or reliability of a document.

Checking the source information on a document is a good place to begin evaluating perspective. Before reading, ask yourself: Who wrote this document? When was it written? What type of document is it? Based on this information, see if you can go even further by trying to determine why the document was written, and make a prediction on what the document might be about.

While reading the document you can continue analyzing perspective. Pay close attention to the author’s argument or narrative and the words and phrases they use to make their argument or describe their version of history. Ask yourself: How does this document make me feel about this topic? What words or phrases does the author use to describe people and events?

Our task today is to compare and contrast 3 documents from the First Crusade, and in particular the capture of Jerusalem. You are going to explore different perspectives on this event while considering what happened when the Crusaders captured Jerusalem.

Activity 1: What happened when the Crusaders captured Jerusalem?

Document A

  • Highlight the document’s source to establish when, where, and by whom this document was created.

  • Predict what Raymond d’Augiliers might say about the capture of Jerusalem.

  • Read the document along with Reading Guide. While you read, underline words and phrases that make them think this document is written from a Christian Crusader’s perspective.

Document B

  • Highlight the document’s source to establish when, where, and by whom this document was created.

  • Predict what Ibn al-Athir might say about the capture of Jerusalem.

  • Read the document along with Reading Guide. While you read, underline words and phrases that make them think this document is written from the Muslim perspective.


  • Identify 1-2 similarities and 1-2 differences between the 2 documents

Document C

You are going to read the third document without any source information. Your task is to read the document, consider how it compares to the others, and try to determine if the document comes from a Muslim or Christian writer.

  • Read the document and underline words, phrases, or sentences that might indicate the perspective of this document. Draw on evidence from all 3 documents to decide if Document C is more similar to Document A (Christian) or B (Muslim).

SHEG-What happened when Crusaders entered Jerusalem during the First Crusade Student Version.pdf

Discussion Questions

  • Based on these sources, what happened when Crusaders entered Jerusalem during the First Crusade?

  • What are the primary similarities and differences of these documents?

  • Are these trustworthy accounts? Why or why not?

  • What other primary source documents might you read to better answer today’s historical question?

Activity 2: What were the main events of the Crusades?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

The Effects of the Crusades

The Effects of the Crusades on Europe

Of the Nine Crusades, the First was the only one that ended with Christian control of Jerusalem; from 1147 to 1271, Muslim armies repeatedly outsmarted, outmaneuvered, and flat out beat the traveling Christians. However, despite the amount of violence that took place on both sides, the Crusades had a tremendous impact on the medieval world.

In Europe, the Crusades established the Pope and the Catholic Church as the central authority in the eyes of most people. The promise of a glorious afterlife for volunteering to fight gave people hope of life beyond the current. People became consumed with their faith. For example, in 1212 a lesser-known Crusade embarked from Europe composed entirely of children. Led by twelve-year-old Stephen of Cloyes, the 30,000 who enlisted believed Jesus would part waterways and slay their enemies. Unfortunately, most children died in the wilderness only a few miles from home or drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. While this certainly raises a slew of questions, we can learn from this event just how committed Europeans were to their religion.

The political system began to change in Europe as well. Enlisting in the Crusades drew thousands of peasants off the manors and allowed them to experience a new and exciting way of life. This newfound freedom encouraged peasants to settle somewhere else on their way back home; cities offered independence and much greater opportunity for advancement. Naturally, city populations began to rise. At the same time, kings seized land that went unclaimed and their power and increased the power of the kings.

European economics also changed drastically. Fighting nonstop for almost two hundred years required a lot of funds, and Crusaders were often expected to supply their own weapons, armor, and horse. In order to pay for equipment, soldiers had to take out loans from the middle and wealthy class merchants; many gave their property to pay for their loan or agreed to give away everything in their name if they failed to return from the Holy Land. Others hoped to repay their loans with riches they would seize from the region. These early banking practices, the issuing of loans and the charging of interest, emerged in the Crusades and quickly became a staple throughout Europe. The Crusades increased trade between Europe and Asia.

Finally, Christians returned to Europe with knowledge of a new and interesting culture. Crusaders brought back Muslim ideas such as algebra, chess, and new fabric styles such as muslin. Middle Eastern foods became popular among Europeans as well, such as apricots, coffee, rice, and pepper

The Effects of the Crusades on The Middle East

Muslim dynasties ruled over Jerusalem for 450 years prior to the First Crusade. When the First Crusade started, the Christian Crusaders were naturally seen as foreigners, aggressors, and invaders. To Muslims, Jerusalem was their homeland and they had every right to remain in the land of their ancestors. Even today a deep anti-Christian, or "anti-West," attitude permeates the region. This is not without warrant, however, since the Catholic Church and European nations launched two hundred years of war in the region; one could argue that all Muslims did was defend their homeland.

Since Christians were engulfed in a foreign land, it is natural that they learned more about Muslim culture than Muslims learned about them. Muslims could only learn about Christians from what was brought, which means most of what Muslims learned about Christians is lmostly imited to military in nature. One of the greatest impacts that European culture had on the Middle East was the idea of a standing army. Also called a professional army, this is an army where soldiers are paid and are always ready to fight. Today, only twenty-three countries lack a professional army, including Costa Rica, Iceland, and Panama.

While the Crusades were primarily fought between Christians and Muslims, Jews were heavily impacted by the wars as well. A zeal swept over Crusaders on their march east and they quickly identified any non-believer as the enemy, which was not the intention when Pope Urban made his call to war in 1095. Crusaders pillaged Jewish farms for food, looted valuables from shops, and massacred entire villages. In the First Crusade, Jews, and Muslims alike were senselessly murdered inside Jerusalem's city walls. Crusaders even set ablaze the Jewish synagogue, effectively burning alive all Jews who sought safety within its walls. Accounts exist that claim the Christians even sang the hymn “Christ We Adore Thee!” and held “their Crusader crosses on high” as the temple burned. While anti-Semitism was certainly active before the Crusades, this outward push of violence toward Jews only increased discrimination toward the group.

Activity 3: What were the causes and the effects of the Crusades?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities

Newsela: The Crusades: War in the Holy Land

Newsela: Famous Speeches: Pope Urban Orders the First Crusade (1095)

Newsela: Primary Sources: Saladin and the Crusaders fight over Jerusalem

Newsela: Primary Sources: Richard the Lionheart Massacres Prisoners During Crusades