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Visual History of the World
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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The upheaval that accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome, the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time, great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th—14th century in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.

The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio



The Crusades



The Crusades Map


1 The First Crusade to "rescue" the holy lands began
on command of Pope Urban II in 1095.

The Crusader movement, which began in the eleventh century, was in its causes and effects a multilayered phenomenon. The 1 Crusades to the Orient led to the expansion of European trade with the Orient. They had a lasting effect on the development of Europe, particularly on its intellectual life. The Crusades in Europe itself, which were directed against the Muslims of the Iberian Peninsula and against heretics and pagans, were also of long-lasting political importance. The consequences of the Crusader idea were fatal for many European Jews, who also fell victim to the crusading armies and the fanaticized population.


Background and Causes

Religious, material, and political reasons motivated aristocratic crusaders as well as poorer members of the population to set off for the Holy Land.


The religious life of the Christian West underwent revitalization in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Expressions of this included the reform movements within the Church, such as the Cluniac and Gregorian reforms, as well as the emergence of new religious orders such as the Cistercians.

This sense of piousness also resulted in an increase in the number of 2 pilgrimages to sites in Palestine, which had been under Muslim rule since the seventh century.

Into this situation came the 5 Seljuks, whose advance into the Near East in the mid-eleventh century had been noticed in Europe.

By 1074 Pope Gregory VII was already planning a Crusade to "liberate" the holy sites and overcome the Great Schism. When the Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus turned to Pope Urban II with a request for aid against the Seljuks in 1095—the same year as the Synod of Clermont—the pope won over the knights and princes of the West for a Crusade in support of the Byzantine emperor.

2 The patriarch of Jerusalem shows pilgrims a relic,
book illustration, 14th ñ

5 Muslims hold a banquet after their victory over the Byzantines,
Byzantine book illustration, 13th century

Soon, however, the main aim of the war became to liberate 4 Jerusalem from Muslim rule.

3 Crusaders were promised a remission of their sins in the hereafter, which motivated many of the poorer participants.

For most of the aristocratic crusaders involved, however, the possibility of material and political gains were also important motivating factors. Many of the younger sons of the aristocracy, who were excluded from hereditary succession in their homeland, saw the Crusades as an opportunity for an activity befitting their station that could lead to military glory, booty, and perhaps even a dominion of their own. At the same time, kings and princes used the Crusades to ideologically legitimize their reigns in their own countries by presenting themselves as truly Christian-minded rulers. Merchants, particularly in the Italian commercial cities, were lured by profits from outfitting and transporting troops, as well as the expansion of their trade interests.

4 The world as a disc with Jerusalem at its center,
illustration, ca. 1250

3 Knight on horseback, bronze sculpture,
13th century


Pope Urban II preaches the First
Crusade at the Council of Clermont.

Pope Urban II's

Sermon Promoting the Crusade,
Clermont, 1095

"They [the Seljuks] have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire.

If you permit them to continue thus for awhile with impunity, the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked by them."

Pope Urban II
by Antoine Rivalz



Urban II
original name Odo of Châtillon-sur-Marne, or Odo of Lagery, or of Lagny, French Odon, or Eudes, de Châtillon-sur-Marne, or de Lagery, or de Lagny

born c. 1035, Châtillon-sur-Marne, or Lagery, or Lagny, Champagne, France
died July 29, 1099, Rome [Italy]

head of the Roman Catholic church (1088–99) who developed ecclesiastical reforms begun by Pope Gregory VII, launched the Crusade movement, and strengthened the papacy as a political entity.

Early life and career.
Odo was born of noble parents about 1035 in the Champagne region of France. After studies in Soissons and Reims, he took the position of archdeacon in the diocese of Reims, at that time the most important metropolis in France. An archdeacon was an ordained cleric appointed by the bishop to assist him in administration; in the Middle Ages it was an office of considerable power. Odo held the position probably from 1055 to 1067. Subsequently he became a monk and then (c. 1070–74) prior superior at Cluny, the most important centre of reform monasticism in Europe in the 11th century. At Reims and Cluny, Odo gained experience in ecclesiastical policy and administration and made contacts with two important reform groups of his time: the canons regular—clergymen dedicated to the active service of the church, who live a strict life in community—and the monks of Cluny. In 1079 he went to Rome on a mission for his abbot, Hugh of Cluny.

While in Rome he was created cardinal and bishop of Ostia (the seaport for Rome) by Gregory VII. In 1084 Gregory VII sent him as papal legate to Germany. During the crisis of Gregory VII’s struggle with Henry IV, the Holy Roman emperor, Odo remained loyal to the legitimate papacy. After Gregory VII’s death in 1085, he also served his successor, Victor III, who died in September 1087. After a long delay, during which the reform cardinals tried unsuccessfully to regain control of Rome from Guibert of Ravenna, who had been named Pope Clement III by Henry IV in 1080, Odo was elected pope in Terracina, south of Rome, on March 12, 1088.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


The First and Second Crusades

The First Crusade resulted in the establishment of crusader states in the Near East. These were soon on the defensive, however. A subsequent Crusade in their defense remained unsuccessful.


The pope's appeal was first answered in 1096 by relatively disordered bands of adventurers and social outsiders led by the monk 6 Peter of Amiens.

6 Peter of Amiens calls for the Crusade,
wood engraving, 19th century

After being decimated by the Bulgars, the rest of the People's Crusade was wiped out by the Seljuks in Asia Minor. Around the same time, an army of German crusaders carried out pogroms against the Jews while still in Europe.

The first organized army of crusaders, the "Princes' Crusade," was led by Godfrey of Bouillon, his brother Baldwin of Boulogne, Raymond of Toulouse, and Bohemond of Taranto and was composed of French, Flemish, and southern Italian soldiers. When these crusaders reached Constantinople in 1097, Emperor Alexius I insisted that they swear an oath of allegiance to him, although this oath would not last long. Once the Christian army had beaten the Seljuks in 1097 at Dorylaeum, they were able to take Antioch in Syria in 1098. Meanwhile, Baldwin of Boulogne had been accepted as heir by Thoros, the king of Edessa on the other side of the Euphrates. When Thoros was assassinated, Baldwin erected the first of the crusader states there. Bohemond of Taranto then created the first principality in Antioch, and Raymond of Toulouse founded the county of Tripoli.

In 1099, they conquered 9 Jerusalem; Jews and Muslims alike were slaughtered in a 7 massacre.

9 Jerusalem is captured by crusaders, 1099 book illustration, 14th century

7 Muslims are massacred by crusaders in a mosque,
Gustave Dore  , wood engraving

see also:

The History of the Crusades

illustrations by Gustave Dore 

Godfrey was elected "Protector of the 8 Holy Sepulchre," refusing to be named king in the city where Christ had died.

When he died in 1110, his brother Baldwin succeeded him and assumed the title of king.

By 1144, Edessa had been retaken by the Seljuks, whereupon the Cistercian abbot 10 Bernhard of Clairvaux called for a second Crusade.

Another army set off in 1147 under Louis VII of France and the German king, Conrad III. After a journey involving heavy losses and unsuccessful sieges of Damascus and other cities, the crusaders returned home in 1149.

8 The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

10 Bernhard of Clairvaux calls for the Second Crusade, painting, 19th ñ



Crusader States

The crusaders established several feudal states in Cyprus, Prussia, the Levant, Greece and Israel, along Western European lines.

As few colonists from Europe were forthcoming, however, the small group of conquerors, after a wave of persecution and expulsions, adapted to the predominantly higher civilization of the Jews and Muslims and lived, if not with, then alongside them.

In addition to warring with the Muslim states, the Christians also often fought among themselves, weakening each other's positions. After two centuries, in 1291, the last crusader state on the mainland fell.

The Near East in 1135,
with the Crusader states in green hues



The Siege of Antioch,
from a medieval miniature painting,
during the First Crusade.


For the first decade, the Crusaders pursued a policy of terror against Muslims and Jews that included mass executions, the throwing of severed heads over besieged cities walls, exhibition and mutilation of naked cadavers, and even cannibalism, as was recorded after the Siege of Maarat.





(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

The History of the Crusades illustrations by Gustave Dore


Blondel hears the voice of Richard
Blondel de Nesle, dressed as a minstrel, finds the captive King Richard I
of England by singing the first two couplets of a song they composed jointly.





Military expeditions, beginning in the late 11th century, that were organized by Western Christians in response to centuries of Muslim wars of expansion.

Their objectives were to check the spread of Islam, to retake control of the Holy Land, to conquer pagan areas, and to recapture formerly Christian territories. The Crusades were seen by many of their participants as a means of redemption and expiation for sins. Between 1095, when the First Crusade was launched by Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont, and 1291, when the Latin Christians were finally expelled from their kingdom in Syria, there were numerous expeditions to the Holy Land, to Spain, and even to the Baltic; the Crusades continued for several centuries after 1291, usually as military campaigns intended to halt or slow the advance of Muslim power or to conquer pagan areas. The Crusaders initially enjoyed success, founding a Christian state in Palestine and Syria, but the continued growth of Islamic states ultimately reversed those gains. By the 14th century the Ottoman Turks had established themselves in the Balkans and would penetrate deeper into Europe despite repeated efforts to repulse them. Crusades were also called against heretics (the Albigensian Crusade, 1209–29) and various rivals of the popes, and the Fourth Crusade (1202–04) was diverted against the Byzantine Empire. Crusading declined rapidly during the 16th century with the advent of the Protestant Reformation and the decline of papal authority. The Crusades constitute a controversial chapter in the history of Christianity, and their excesses have been the subject of centuries of historiography. Historians have also concentrated on the role the Crusades played in the expansion of medieval Europe and its institutions, and the notion of “crusading” has been transformed from a religio-military campaign into a modern metaphor for zealous and demanding struggles to advance the good (“crusades for”) and to oppose perceived evil (“crusades against”).

military expeditions, beginning in the late 11th century, that were organized by Western Christians in response to centuries of Muslim wars of expansion. Their objectives were to check the spread of Islam, to retake control of the Holy Land, to conquer pagan areas, and to recapture formerly Christian territories; they were seen by many of their participants as a means of redemption and expiation for sins. Between 1095, when the First Crusade was launched, and 1291, when the Latin Christians were finally expelled from their kingdom in Syria, there were numerous expeditions to the Holy Land, to Spain, and even to the Baltic; the Crusades continued for several centuries after 1291, usually as military campaigns intended to halt or slow the advance of Muslim power or to conquer pagan areas. Crusading declined rapidly during the 16th century with the advent of the Protestant Reformation and the decline of papal authority.

Approximately two-thirds of the ancient Christian world had been conquered by Muslims by the end of the 11th century, including the important regions of Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and Anatolia. The Crusades, attempting to check this advance, initially enjoyed success, founding a Christian state in Palestine and Syria, but the continued growth of Islamic states ultimately reversed those gains. By the 14th century the Ottoman Turks had established themselves in the Balkans and would penetrate deeper into Europe despite repeated efforts to repulse them.

The Crusades constitute a controversial chapter in the history of Christianity, and their excesses have been the subject of centuries of historiography. The Crusades also played an integral role in the expansion of medieval Europe.

The First Crusade and the establishment of the Latin states » Background and context
Although still backward when compared with the other civilizations of the Mediterranean basin, western Europe had become a significant power by the end of the 11th century. It was composed of several kingdoms loosely describable as feudal. While endemic private warfare, brigandage, and problems associated with vassalage and inheritance still existed, some monarchies were already developing better-integrated systems of government. At the same time, Europe was feeling the effects of population growth that had begun toward the end of the 10th century and would continue well into the 13th century. An economic revival was also in full swing well before the First Crusade; forestlands were being cleared, frontiers pushed forward, and markets organized. Moreover, Italian shipping was beginning to challenge the Muslim predominance in the Mediterranean. Especially significant for the Crusade was a general overhaul of the ecclesiastical structure in the 11th century, associated with the Gregorian Reform movement, which enabled the popes to assume a more active role in society. In 1095, for example, Urban II was in a position strong enough to convoke two important ecclesiastical councils, despite meeting resistance from Henry IV, the German emperor, who opposed papal reform policies.

Thus it was that in the closing years of the 11th century western Europe was abounding in energy and confidence. What is more, as is evident in achievements such as the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, Europeans possessed the capacity to launch a major military undertaking at the very time the Seljuq Turks, one of several tribes on the northeastern frontier of the Muslim world who had embraced Islam in the 11th century, were beginning to move south and west into Iran and beyond with all the enthusiasm of a new convert.


Hospitality of barbarians to pilgrims
Beginning to respect the cross of Christ, the armies of the Goths,
the Huns, and the Vandals protect the Crusaders on their journeys.

The First Crusade and the establishment of the Latin states » Background and context » The effects of religion

The Crusades were also a development of popular religious life and feeling in the West. The social effect of religious belief at the time was complex: religion was moved by tales of signs and wonders, and it attributed natural disasters to supernatural intervention. At the same time, laypersons were not indifferent to reform movements, and on occasion they agitated against clergy whom they regarded as unworthy. A peace movement also developed, especially in France, under the leadership of certain bishops but with considerable popular support. Religious leaders proclaimed the Peace of God and the Truce of God, designed to halt or at least limit warfare and assaults during certain days of the week and times of the year and to protect the lives of clergy, travelers, women, and cattle and others unable to defend themselves against brigandage. It is particularly interesting to note that the Council of Clermont, at which Urban II called for the First Crusade (1095), renewed and generalized the Peace of God.

It may seem paradoxical that a council both promulgated peace and officially sanctioned war, but the peace movement was designed to protect those in distress, and a strong element of the Crusade was the idea of giving aid to fellow Christians in the East. Tied to this idea was the notion that war to defend Christendom was not only a justifiable undertaking but a holy work and therefore pleasing to God.

Closely associated with this Western concept of holy war was another popular religious practice, pilgrimage to a holy shrine. Eleventh-century Europe abounded in local shrines housing relics of saints, but three great centres of pilgrimage stood out above the others: Rome, with the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul; Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain; and Jerusalem, with the Holy Sepulchre of Christ’s entombment. Pilgrimage, which had always been considered an act of devotion, had also come to be regarded as a more formal expiation for serious sin, even occasionally prescribed as a penance for the sinner by his confessor.

Yet another element in the popular religious consciousness of the 11th century, one associated with both Crusade and pilgrimage, was the belief that the end of the world was imminent. Some scholars have discovered evidence of apocalyptic expectations around the years 1000 and 1033 (the millennium of the birth and Passion of Jesus, respectively), and others have emphasized the continuance of the idea throughout the 11th century and beyond. Moreover, in certain late 11th-century portrayals of the end of all things, the “last emperor,” now popularly identified with the “king of the Franks,” the final successor of Charlemagne, was to lead the faithful to Jerusalem to await the Second Coming of Christ. Jerusalem, as the earthly symbol of the heavenly city, figured prominently in Western consciousness, and, as the number of pilgrimages to Jerusalem increased in the 11th century, it became clear that any interruption of access to the city would have serious repercussions.

By the middle of the 11th century, the Seljuq Turks had wrested political authority from the ʿAbbāsid caliphs of Baghdad. Seljuq policy, originally directed southward against the Fāṭimids of Egypt, was increasingly diverted by the pressure of Turkmen raids into Anatolia and Byzantine Armenia. A Byzantine army was defeated and Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes was captured at Manzikert in 1071, and Christian Asia Minor was thereby opened to eventual Turkish occupation. Meanwhile, many Armenians south of the Caucasus migrated south to join others in the region of the Taurus Mountains and to form a colony in Cilicia.

Seljuq expansion southward continued, and in 1085 the capture of Antioch in Syria, one of the patriarchal sees of Christianity, was another blow to Byzantine prestige. Thus, although the Seljuq empire never successfully held together as a unit, it appropriated most of Asia Minor, including Nicaea, from the Byzantine Empire and brought a resurgent Islam perilously close to Constantinople, the Byzantine capital. It was this danger that prompted the emperor, Alexius Comnenus, to seek aid from the West, and by 1095 the West was ready to respond.

The turmoil of these years disrupted normal political life and made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem difficult and often impossible. Stories of dangers and molestation reached the West and remained in the popular mind even after conditions improved. Furthermore, informed authorities began to realize that the power of the Muslim world now seriously menaced the West as well as the East. It was this realization that led to the Crusades.

Alexius’s appeal came at a time when relations between the Eastern and Western branches of the Christian world were improving. Difficulties between the two in the middle years of the century had resulted in a de facto, though not formally proclaimed, schism in 1054, and ecclesiastical disagreements had been accentuated by Norman occupation of formerly Byzantine areas in southern Italy. A campaign led by the Norman adventurer Robert Guiscard against the Greek mainland further embittered the Byzantines, and it was only after Robert’s death in 1085 that conditions for a renewal of normal relations between East and West were reasonably favourable. Envoys of Emperor Alexius Comnenus thus arrived at the Council of Piacenza in 1095 at a propitious moment, and it seems probable that Pope Urban II viewed military aid as a means toward restoring ecclesiastical unity.

Fulk-Nerra assailed by the phantoms of his victims
Fulk-Nerra, Count of Anjou, is haunted by the spirits of those he has killed.

The First Crusade and the establishment of the Latin states » Background and context » The Council of Clermont

The Council of Clermont convoked by Urban on November 18, 1095, was attended largely by bishops of southern France as well as a few representatives from northern France and elsewhere. Much important ecclesiastical business was transacted, which resulted in a series of canons, among them one that renewed the Peace of God and another that granted a plenary indulgence (the remission of all penance for sin) to those who undertook to aid Christians in the East. Then in a great outdoor assembly the pope, a Frenchman, addressed a large crowd.

His exact words will never be known, since the only surviving accounts of his speech were written years later, but he apparently stressed the plight of Eastern Christians, the molestation of pilgrims, and the desecration of the holy places. He urged those who were guilty of disturbing the peace to turn their warlike energies toward a holy cause. He emphasized the need for penance along with the acceptance of suffering and taught that no one should undertake this pilgrimage for any but the most exalted of motives.

The response was immediate and overwhelming, probably far greater than Urban had anticipated. Cries of “Deus le volt” (“God wills it”) were heard everywhere, and it was decided that those who agreed to go should wear a cross. Moreover, it was not only warrior knights who responded; a popular element, apparently unexpected and probably not desired, also came forward.

The era of Clermont witnessed the concurrence of three significant developments: first, there existed as never before a popular religious fervour that was not without marked eschatological tendencies in which the holy city of Jerusalem figured prominently; second, war against the infidel had come to be regarded as a religious undertaking, a work pleasing to God; and finally, western Europe now possessed the ecclesiastical and secular institutional and organizational capacity to plan such an enterprise and carry it through.


Peter the Hermit preaching the crusade
Peter the Hermit’s preaching inspires awe and reverence in the
crowd of Crusaders.


The First Crusade and the establishment of the Latin states » Preparations for the Crusade

Following Pope Urban’s speech, preparations began in both East and West. Emperor Alexius, who had doubtless anticipated the mustering of some sort of auxiliary force, apparently soon realized that he would have to provide for and police a much larger influx of warriors. In the West, as the leaders began to assemble their armies, those who took the cross sought to raise money, often by selling or mortgaging property, both for the immediate purchase of equipment and for the long-term needs of the journey.

As preparations were under way, several less-organized bands of knights and peasants, commonly known as the “People’s Crusade,” set out across Europe. The most famous of these, brought together by a remarkable popular preacher, Peter the Hermit, and his associate Walter Sansavoir, reached Constantinople after having caused considerable disorder in Hungary and Bulgaria. Alexius received Peter cordially and advised him to await the arrival of the main Crusade force. But the rank and file grew unruly, and on August 6, 1096, they were ferried across the Bosporus. While Peter was in Constantinople requesting additional aid, his army was ambushed at Cibotus (called Civetot by the Crusaders) and all but annihilated by the Turks.

Peter the Hermit’s preaching in Germany inspired other groups of Crusaders, who also failed to reach Jerusalem. One of these groups was led by the notorious Count Emicho and was responsible for a series of massacres of Jews in several Rhenish towns in 1096. Traditionally recognized as an important turning point in Jewish and Christian relations in the Middle Ages—in fact, it is often cited as a pivotal moment in the history of anti-Semitism—these attacks occurred first in Speyer and then with increasing ferocity in Worms, Mainz, and Cologne. The Jews of these towns often sought, and sometimes received, the protection of the bishop or futilely took refuge in local homes and temples. Forced by the Crusaders to convert or die, many Jews chose death. There are accounts of Jews’ committing suicide and even killing their children rather than converting or submitting to execution by the Crusaders. Though zealotry of this nature is not unique to Christianity, these massacres did not go unnoticed even by fellow Christians. Indeed, some contemporary Christian accounts attributed the defeat of the People’s Crusade to them. After the massacres, the Crusaders moved on to Hungary, where they were routed by the Hungarian king and suffered heavy losses. Emicho, who may not have participated in all the pogroms, escaped and returned home in disgrace.

The main Crusading force, which departed in August 1096 as Urban directed, consisted of four major contingents. A smaller, fifth force, led by Hugh of Vermandois, brother of King Philip I of France, left before the others but was reduced by shipwreck while crossing the Adriatic from Bari to Dyrrhachium (now Durrës, Albania). Godfrey of Bouillon, leader of the first large army to depart and duke of Lower Lorraine since 1087, was the only major prince from the German kingdom involved in the Crusade, though he and his associates largely spoke French. Joined by his brothers, Eustace and Baldwin, and a kinsman, Baldwin of Le Bourcq, Godfrey took the land route and crossed Hungary without incident. Markets and provisions were supplied in Byzantine territory, and, except for some pillaging, the army reached Constantinople without serious problems on December 23, 1096.

A second force was organized by Bohemond, a Norman from southern Italy. The son of Robert Guiscard, Bohemond was on familiar ground across the Adriatic, where he had fought with his father and was understandably feared by the Byzantines. However, he was 40 years old when he arrived at Constantinople on April 9, 1097, and determined to come to profitable terms with his former enemy.

The third and largest army was assembled by Raymond of Saint-Gilles, the count of Toulouse. At age 55, he was the oldest and most prominent of the princes on the Crusade, and he aspired and perhaps expected to become the leader of the entire expedition. He was accompanied by Adhémar, bishop of Le Puy, whom the pope had named as legate for the Crusade. Raymond led his followers, including a number of noncombatant pilgrims whom he supported at his own expense, across northern Italy, around the head of the Adriatic, and then southward into Byzantine territory. This large body caused considerable trouble in Dalmatia and clashed with Byzantine troops as it approached the capital, where Raymond arrived on April 21.

Meanwhile, the fourth army, under Robert of Flanders, had crossed the Adriatic from Brindisi. Accompanying Robert were his cousin Robert of Normandy (brother of King William II of England) and Stephen of Blois (the son-in-law of William the Conqueror). No king took part in the First Crusade, and the predominantly French-speaking participants came to be known by the Muslims as Franks.

The presence near Constantinople of massive military forces, numbering perhaps 4,000 mounted knights and 25,000 infantry, posed a serious problem for Alexius, and there was occasional disorder. Forced to consider imperial interests, which, it soon became evident, were different from the objective of the Crusaders, the emperor required each Crusade leader to promise under oath to restore to him any conquered territory that had belonged to the empire before the Turkish invasions and to swear loyalty to him while the Crusaders remained in his domain. Since there was never any plan for the Crusade to go beyond the far-flung borders of the old Roman Empire, this would effectively give all conquests to the emperor. Only Bohemond willingly took the emperor’s oath. The others did so under duress, and Raymond swore only a lukewarm oath to respect the property and person of the emperor. Despite this, Raymond and Alexius became good friends, and Raymond remained the strongest defender of the emperor’s rights throughout the Crusade.


The war cry of the Crusaders
At the start of spring, the Crusaders embark on their trek
crying “Deus volt” (God wills it).

The First Crusade and the establishment of the Latin states » From Constantinople to Antioch

Late in May 1097 the Crusaders and a contingent of Byzantine soldiers reached the capital of the Turkish sultanate, Nicaea (now İznik, Turkey), which surrendered to the Byzantines on June 19. The Crusade army left Nicaea for Antioch on June 26 and found crossing the arid and mountainous Anatolia difficult. At Dorylaeum on July 1, 1097, Turks attacked the advance column of the Crusader army. Despite the heat and a rain of arrows, the Crusaders held their ground, and, when the rest of the army drew up, the Turks were routed. A major victory in open warfare had been achieved by cooperation between the separate Western contingents and the Greeks.

Further advance across Anatolia was even more arduous, and it was only after suffering many casualties, especially in the region of the Taurus Mountains, that the Crusaders arrived near Antioch on October 20. Meanwhile, Godfrey’s brother Baldwin left the main army to involve himself in Armenian politics and then became ruler of Edessa. The first of the Crusader states, the county of Edessa would provide a valuable buffer against Turkish attacks on Antioch and other Christian territories.

One of the great cities of the Levant and one of the patriarchal sees of Christianity, Antioch was surrounded by an enormous circle of walls studded with more than 400 towers. Despite reinforcements and supplies from Genoese and English ships and later from the patriarch of Jerusalem, then in Cyprus, the siege proved long and difficult, and many died of starvation or disease. Spring brought the threat of counterattack by a relief force under Kerbogha of Mosul. The situation seemed so hopeless that some Crusaders deserted and attempted to return home. Among these was Peter the Hermit, who was caught and returned to the host, where he was quietly forgiven. Another deserter was the French knight Stephen of Blois, who was cut off from the main body of the army by Kerbogha’s forces and judged, not unreasonably, that the Crusaders were doomed. On his way home Stephen met Alexius, who was marching at the head of a Byzantine relief force, and convinced him that Antioch’s cause was hopeless. The emperor’s decision to turn back, however justified tactically, was a diplomatic blunder; when the Crusaders learned of the emperor’s move, they felt free from any obligation to return the city to him.

Bohemond, meanwhile, proposed that the first to enter the city should have possession of it, provided the emperor did not make an appearance. The Norman had, in fact, already made contact with a discontented commander within, who proceeded to admit him over a section of the walls on June 3, 1098. The other Crusaders followed Bohemond into the dozing city and quickly captured it. Only the citadel held out.

Thus, Antioch was restored to Christian rule. The victory, however, was incomplete. Kerbogha arrived with an enormous Turkish army and completely invested the city, which was already very low on provisions. Once again the situation seemed hopeless. Disagreements between the leaders persisted and were accentuated by arguments over the validity of what had come to be called the Holy Lance, which a Provençal priest found below the cathedral and insisted was the lance that, according to the Gospels, had pierced the side of Jesus Christ when he hung on the cross. Nonetheless, on June 28 the Crusader army moved out of the city. The Turkish forces were not of high quality and had only tenuous loyalty to Kerbogha. When they saw the size of the Crusade forces and the resolve of the men, the Turks began to flee. With the evaporation of Kerbogha’s army, the citadel finally surrendered to Bohemond, and its garrison was permitted to leave. Rejoicing was tempered by a devastating epidemic that took many lives, including that of the legate, Adhémar of Le Puy, who, as the spiritual leader of the Crusade, had been a wise counselor and a stabilizing influence whom the leaders could ill afford to lose.

The Crusade leaders then fell into violent disagreement over the final disposition of Antioch. Bohemond, who had been responsible for the capture of the city and then had led its defense, wanted it for himself. Raymond, however, insisted that it be returned to the emperor. Unable to come to terms on Antioch, Bohemond and Raymond refused to march to Jerusalem, which effectively stalled the Crusade. The leaders agreed to depart only after the rank and file threatened to tear down the walls of Antioch. On January 13, 1099, the army then set out for Jerusalem under the leadership of Raymond of Saint-Gilles. As they moved south, Tancred and Robert of Normandy and, later, Godfrey and Robert of Flanders joined them. Bohemond, ignoring his previous oaths, remained in Antioch.

Walter the Penniless in Hungary
The Bulgarians kill many of Walter’s soldiers in retaliation after
his army steals provisions and pillages their city.

The First Crusade and the establishment of the Latin states » The siege of Jerusalem

Not far from Beirut, the army entered the territory of the Fāṭimid caliphs of Cairo, who, as Shīʿite Muslims, were enemies of the Sunnite Seljuqs and the caliphs of Baghdad. In August 1098 the Fāṭimids had occupied Jerusalem. The final drive of the First Crusade, therefore, was against the Fāṭimids of Egypt, not the Seljuqs.

On June 7, 1099, the Christian army—by then considerably reduced to perhaps 1,200–1,500 cavalry and 12,000 foot soldiers—encamped before Jerusalem, whose governor was well supplied and confident that he could withstand a siege until a relief force arrived from Egypt. The Crusaders, on the other hand, were short of supplies and would be until six vessels arrived at Jaffa (Yafo) and managed to unload before the port was blockaded by an Egyptian squadron. On July 8 a strict fast was ordered, and, with the Muslims scoffing from the walls, the entire army, preceded by the clergy, marched in solemn procession around the city, thence to the Mount of Olives, where Peter the Hermit preached with his former eloquence.

Siege towers were carried up to the walls on July 13–14, and on July 15 Godfrey’s men took a sector of the walls, and others followed on scaling ladders. When the nearest gate was opened, Tancred and Raymond entered, and the Muslim governor surrendered to the latter in the Tower of David. The governor, along with his bodyguard, was escorted out of the city. Tancred promised protection in the Aqṣā Mosque, but his orders were disobeyed. Hundreds of men, women, and children, both Muslim and Jewish, perished in the general slaughter that followed.

The Crusaders, therefore, attained their goal three long years after they had set out. Against the odds this struggling, fractious, and naive enterprise had made its way from western Europe to the Middle East and conquered two of the best-defended cities of the time. From a modern perspective, the improbability of the First Crusade’s success is staggering. For medieval men and women, though, the agent of victory was God himself, who worked miracle after miracle for his faithful knights. It was this firm belief that would sustain centuries of Crusading.


The attack on Merseburg
In the battle against Merseburg, the Crusaders are panic-stricken
when several ladders collapse under their weight.

The First Crusade and the establishment of the Latin states » The Crusader states

A successful surprise attack on the Egyptian relief army ensured the Crusaders’ occupation of Palestine. Having fulfilled their vows of pilgrimage, most of the Crusaders departed for home, leaving the problem of governing the conquered territories to the few who remained. Initially, there was disagreement concerning the nature of the government to be established, and some held that the holy city should be ruled under ecclesiastical authority. As an interim measure, Godfrey was elected to govern and took the modest title of Defender of the Holy Sepulchre.

In December 1099, in the midst of this confused situation, Bohemond and Baldwin of Edessa arrived in Jerusalem to fulfill their Crusader vows. Accompanying Bohemond was Daimbert, the archbishop of Pisa, who was chosen patriarch and received the homage of both Godfrey and Baldwin. If Daimbert had ambitions to govern Jerusalem, they were thwarted when, on Godfrey’s death, his brother Baldwin was summoned back to Jerusalem, where he assumed the title of king (November 11, 1100). Thus, there had come into being not a church state but a feudal kingdom of Jerusalem.

Securing the new Christian territories was now of utmost concern. The Crusade of 1101, for example, was organized by Pope Paschal II to reinforce Christian rule in the Holy Land, but it collapsed in Asia Minor. King Baldwin, however, profited nonetheless from the chronic rivalries of his Muslim neighbours. He was also able to extend his control along the coastline with the aid of Italians and in one instance of a Norwegian squadron that arrived under King Sigurd in 1110. By 1112 Arsuf, Caesarea, Acre, Beirut, and Sidon had been taken, and the entire coast except for Ascalon and Tyre was in Latin hands.

Meanwhile, castles had been built in Galilee, the frontier pushed southward, and Crusader states formed in the north. The county of Edessa, an ill-defined domain extending into the upper Euphrates region with a population consisting mainly of Armenians and Syrians, had already been established by Godfrey’s brother Baldwin. When Baldwin left to become ruler of Jerusalem, he bestowed the county, under his suzerainty, on his cousin Baldwin of Le Bourcq.

Antioch had not been returned to the emperor, and Bohemond had consolidated his position there. The city was predominantly Greek in population, though there were also Syrians and Armenians, and the latent Greek-Latin friction was intensified when Bohemond replaced the Greek patriarch with a Latin one. When Bohemond was captured by the Muslims in 1100, his nephew Tancred became regent and expanded the frontiers of the principality to include the important port of Latakia, taken from the Byzantines in 1103. Not long after his release in 1103, Bohemond traveled to Europe, where he succeeded in winning over Pope Paschal II to the idea of a new Crusade. Whatever the original intention, there resulted not an expedition against Muslims but an attack on the Byzantine city of Dyrrhachium. Like its predecessor, the ill-fated campaign of 1082, the enterprise failed, and in 1108 Bohemond was forced to take an oath of vassalage to the emperor for Antioch and to return to Italy, where he died in 1111. Tancred, again in power, ignored his uncle’s oath, and Antioch and its patriarchate remained a source of controversy.

A fourth Crusader state was established on the coast in the vicinity of Tripoli (Arabic Tarābulus) by Raymond of Saint-Gilles, who had been outmaneuvered in Jerusalem and had returned to Constantinople hoping for aid from the Byzantine emperor, to whom he had always been loyal. In 1102 he returned to Syria, took Tortosa (Ṭarṭūs), and began the siege of Tripoli. But he died in 1105, and it remained for his descendants to finish the task in 1109.

The establishment and protection of the frontier was, for the new states, a problem conditioned by geography and the politics of Levantine Islam. From Antioch south, the Crusaders held a narrow strip of coastland bounded by mountains to the north and by the Jordan Valley in the south. To the east beyond the Syrian desert lay the Muslim cities of Aleppo, Ḥamāh, Ḥimṣ, and Damascus. Though the Franks did push southward to Aylah (or Elim, modern Al-ʿAqabah), all attempts to move eastward failed, and it was necessary to erect castles at vulnerable points along the eastern frontier as well as along the coast and inland. Among the most famous of these were Krak de Montréal, in the Transjordan, and Krak des Chevaliers, in the county of Tripoli. Meanwhile, the hostility between Shīʿite Egypt and Sunnite Baghdad continued for some time. The emirates in between the two powers remained divided in their allegiance, and those in the north feared the Seljuqs of Iconium.

After Baldwin I’s death in 1118, the throne passed to his cousin Baldwin of Le Bourcq (Baldwin II), who left Edessa to another cousin, Joscelin of Courtenay. In 1124 Tyre, the last great city north of Ascalon still in Muslim hands, was taken with the aid of the Venetians, who, as was customary, received a section of the city. Baldwin II was succeeded by Fulk of Anjou, a newcomer recommended by Louis VI of France. Fulk was married to Baldwin’s daughter Melisende. In 1131 Baldwin and Joscelin both died. They were the last of the first generation of Crusaders, and with their passing the formative period in the history of the Crusader states came to an end.

Fulk’s policies ended the pursuit of expansion and resulted in a stabilization of the frontiers of the Crusader states. This was a wise course, because his reign coincided with the rise of Zangī, atabeg (Turkish: “governor”) of Mosul, whose achievements earned him a reputation as a great champion of the jihad (holy war) against the Franks. When Zangī moved against Damascus, the Muslims of that city and the Christians of Jerusalem formed an alliance against their common enemy, a diplomatic initiative that was common among the second-generation Franks.

The northern Crusader states, however, were in great danger. The Byzantines had recovered their influence in Anatolia and were putting pressure on Armenia and Antioch. Emperor Manuel Comnenus forced Prince Raymond of Antioch to acknowledge imperial suzerainty. But the greater danger to both Antioch and Armenia was dramatically brought home by Zangī’s capture of Edessa in 1144. Attempts at recovery failed, and the northernmost Crusader state was subsequently overrun.


The Second Crusaders encounter the remains of the First Crusaders
On the way to the Holy Land, the Crusaders discover the scattered
skeletal remains of the armies of Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless.

The era of the Second and Third Crusades » The Second Crusade

It had long been apparent that Edessa was vulnerable, but its loss came as a shock to Eastern and Western Christians. Urgent pleas for aid soon reached Europe, and in 1145 Pope Eugenius III issued a formal Crusade bull, Quantum praedecessores (“How Much Our Predecessors”). It was the first of its kind, with precisely worded provisions designed to protect Crusaders’ families and property and reflecting contemporary advances in canon law. The Crusade was preached by St. Bernard of Clairvaux in France and, with the aid of interpreters, even in Germany. Bernard revolutionized Crusade ideology, asserting that the Crusade was not merely an act of charity or a war to secure the holy places but a means of redemption. In his mercy, Christ offered the warriors of Europe a blessed avenue of salvation, a means by which they could give up all they had to follow him.

As in the First Crusade, many simple pilgrims responded. Unlike the First Crusade, however, the Second Crusade was led by two of Europe’s greatest rulers, King Louis VII of France and Emperor Conrad III of Germany. Louis enthusiastically supported the Crusade, but Conrad was reluctant at first and was won over only by the eloquence of St. Bernard. The Second Crusade also differed from its predecessor in that there were three objectives instead of one. While the kings of Germany and France marched east to restore Edessa, other Crusaders went to Spain to fight Muslims or to the shores of the Baltic Sea to fight the pagan Wends.

The situation in the East was also different. Manuel Comnenus, the Byzantine emperor, was not pleased to discover another Crusade headed toward Constantinople. The Second Crusade wreaked havoc with his foreign policy, which included an alliance with Germany, Venice, and the pope against the Normans. It also complicated the emperor’s peaceful relationship with the Turkish sultan of Rūm. Manuel made a truce with the sultan in 1146 to make certain that the Crusade would not cause the sultan to attack Byzantine lands in Asia. Although sound strategically, the emperor’s move confirmed for many Western Christians the apostasy of the Greeks.

Conrad left in May 1147, accompanied by many German nobles, the kings of Poland and Bohemia, and Frederick of Swabia, his nephew and the future emperor Frederick I (Frederick Barbarossa). Conrad’s poorly disciplined troops created tension in Constantinople, where they arrived in September. Conrad and Manuel, however, remained on good terms, and both were apprehensive about the moves of King Roger II of Sicily, who during these same weeks seized Corfu and attacked the Greek mainland.

Conrad, rejecting Manuel’s advice to follow the coastal route around Asia Minor, moved his main force past Nicaea directly into Anatolia. On October 25 at Dorylaeum, not far from where the First Crusaders won their victory, his army, weary and without adequate provisions, was set upon by the Turks and virtually destroyed. Conrad, with a few survivors, retreated to Nicaea.

Louis VII, accompanied by his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, followed the land route across Europe and arrived at Constantinople on October 4, about a month after the Germans. A few of his more hotheaded followers, on hearing that Manuel had made a truce with the Turks of Iconium and totally misunderstanding his motives, accused the emperor of treason and urged the French king to join Roger in attacking the Byzantines. Louis preferred the opinion of his less-volatile advisers and agreed to restore any imperial possessions he might capture.

In November the French reached Nicaea, where they learned of Conrad’s defeat. Louis and Conrad then started along the coastal route, with the French now in the vanguard, and reached Ephesus. Conrad became seriously ill and returned to Constantinople to the medical ministrations of Manuel. After recuperating, he eventually reached Acre by ship in April 1148.

The French passage from Ephesus to Antioch in midwinter was extremely harrowing. Supplies ran short, and the Byzantines were unjustly blamed. Manuel defended his cities against the angry Crusaders, which meant that the French spent more energy fighting Christians than Muslims. Louis concluded that the Greeks were trying to weaken the Crusade. He also had lost the bulk of his troops to Turkish attacks by the time he reached Antioch, which was ruled by Eleanor’s uncle, Prince Raymond. The Crusade’s original goal of recapturing Edessa was no longer feasible, because Nūr al-Dīn, the son and successor of Zangī, had massacred the city’s Christian inhabitants, making it difficult to take and hold Edessa with the forces available. Raymond urged an attack on Aleppo, Nūr al-Dīn’s centre of power. But King Louis, who resented Eleanor’s open espousal of Raymond’s project, left abruptly for Jerusalem and forced the queen to join him.

In Jerusalem, where Conrad had already arrived, many French and German notables assembled with Queen Melisende, her son Baldwin III, and the barons of Jerusalem to discuss how best to proceed. Despite the absence of the northern princes and the losses already suffered by the Crusaders, it was possible to field an army of nearly 50,000 men, the largest Crusade army so far assembled. After considerable debate, which revealed the conflicting purposes of Crusaders and Jerusalem barons, it was decided to attack Damascus.

How the decision was reached is not known. Damascus was undoubtedly a tempting prize. Its ruler, Unur, fearful of the expanding power of Nūr al-Dīn, was the one Muslim ruler most disposed to cooperating with the Franks. However, Unur was now forced to seek the aid of his former enemy to thwart them. And Nūr al-Dīn was not slow to move toward Damascus. Not only was the Crusader campaign poorly conceived, but it was badly executed. On July 28, after a four-day siege, with Nūr al-Dīn’s forces nearing the city, it became evident that the Crusader army was dangerously exposed, and a retreat was ordered. It was a humiliating failure, attributable largely to the conflicting interests of the participants.

Conrad decamped for Constantinople, where he agreed to join the emperor against Roger of Sicily. Louis’s reaction was different. His resentment against Manuel, whom he blamed for the failure, was so great that he accepted Roger’s offer of ships to take him home and agreed to a plan for a new Crusade against Byzantium. Lacking papal support, the plan came to nothing, but the perception that the Byzantines were part of the problem rather than the solution became widespread in Europe.

The Second Crusade had been promoted with great zeal and had aroused high hopes. Its collapse caused deep dismay. Searching for an explanation, St. Bernard turned to Scripture and preached that the Crusade failed because of the sinfulness of Europe. Only through the purification and prayers of Christian men and women would God relent and bestow victory on his knights once more. This belief became central to Crusading ideology and an important impetus for movements of lay piety during the Middle Ages. The Muslims, on the other hand, were enormously encouraged by the collapse of the Second Crusade because they had confronted the danger of another major Western expedition and had triumphed.

Celestial phenomena

The stars, ascending on the horizon in the shape of a cross and a wreath of thorns,
are thought to be a supernatural sign from God to the Crusaders.

The era of the Second and Third Crusades » The Crusader states to 1187

During the 25 years following the Second Crusade, the kingdom of Jerusalem was governed by two of its ablest rulers, Baldwin III (reigned 1143–62) and Amalric I (1163–74). In 1153 King Baldwin captured Ascalon, extending the kingdom’s coastline southward, though this would be the Franks’ last major conquest. Its possession was offset the next year by the occupation of Damascus by Nūr al-Dīn, one more stage in the encirclement of the Crusader states by a single Muslim power.

In 1160–61 the possibility that the Fāṭimid caliphate in Egypt, shaken by palace intrigues and assassinations, might collapse under the influence of Muslim Syria caused anxiety in Jerusalem. Thus, in 1164, when Nūr al-Dīn sent his lieutenant Shīrkūh to Egypt accompanied by his own nephew, Saladin, King Amalric decided to intervene. After some maneuvering, the armies of both Amalric and Shīrkūh withdrew, as they were to do again three years later.

Meanwhile, Amalric, realizing the necessity of Byzantine cooperation, had sent Archbishop William of Tyre as an envoy to Constantinople. In 1168, before the news of the agreement that William of Tyre had arranged reached Jerusalem, the king, for reasons unknown, set out for Egypt. The venture failed, and Shīrkūh entered Cairo. On his death (May 23, 1169), Saladin, then Nūr al-Dīn’s deputy, was left to overcome the remaining opposition and assume control of Egypt.

When the Byzantine fleet and the army finally arrived in 1169, there was some delay, and both armies were forced by inadequate provisions and seasonal rains to retreat once again, each side blaming the other for the lack of confrontation. In 1171 Saladin obeyed Nūr al-Dīn’s order to have the prayers in the mosques mention the caliph of Baghdad instead of the caliph of Cairo, whose health was failing. Thus ended the Fāṭimid caliphate and the great division in Levantine Islam from which the Latins had profited.

Ominous developments followed the deaths of both Amalric and Nūr al-Dīn in 1174. In 1176 the Seljuqs of Iconium defeated the armies of Emperor Manuel Comnenus at Myriocephalon. It was a shattering blow reminiscent of Manzikert a century earlier. When Manuel died in 1180, all hope of effective Byzantine-Latin cooperation vanished. Three years later Saladin occupied Aleppo, virtually completing the encirclement of the Latin states. In 1185 he agreed to a truce and left for Egypt.

In Jerusalem Amalric was succeeded by his son Baldwin IV, a 13-year-old boy suffering from leprosy. Despite the young king’s extraordinary fortitude, his precarious health necessitated continuous regencies and created a problem of succession until his sister Sibyl bore a son, the future Baldwin V, to William of Montferrat. Her subsequent marriage in 1180 to Guy of Lusignan, a newcomer to the East and brother of Amalric, accentuated existing rivalries between the barons. A kind of “court party”—centring around the queen mother, Agnes of Courtenay, her daughter Sibyl, and Agnes’s brother, Joscelin III of Edessa, and now including the Lusignans—was often opposed by another group comprising mostly the so-called native barons—old families, notably the Ibelins, Reginald of Sidon, and Raymond III of Tripoli, who through his wife was also lord of Tiberias. In addition to these internal problems, the kingdom was the most isolated ever. Urgent appeals to the West and the efforts of Pope Alexander III had brought little response.

Baldwin IV died in March 1185, leaving, according to previous agreement, Raymond of Tripoli as regent for the child king Baldwin V. But when Baldwin V died in 1186, the court party outmaneuvered the other barons and, disregarding succession arrangements that had been formally drawn up, hastily crowned Sibyl. She in turn crowned her husband, Guy of Lusignan.

In the midst of near civil war, Reginald of Châtillon, lord of Kerak and Montréal, broke the truce with the Muslims by attacking a caravan. Saladin replied by proclaiming jihad against the Latin kingdom. In 1187 he left Egypt, crossed the Jordan south of the Sea of Galilee, and took up a position close to the river. Near Sepphoris (modern Ẓippori) the Crusaders mobilized an army of perhaps 20,000 men, which included some 1,200 heavily armed cavalry. In a spot well chosen and adequately supplied with water and provisions, they waited for Saladin—who, by some estimates, had about 30,000 men, half of whom were light cavalry—to make the first move.

On July 2 Saladin blocked the main road to Tiberias and sent a small force to attack the town, hoping that Count Raymond’s wife’s presence there would lure the Crusaders into the open. It was Raymond, however, who initially persuaded the king not to fall into the trap. But, late that night, others, accusing the count of treason, prevailed upon the king to change his mind. This fateful decision would lead to the destruction of the Crusader army. On July 3 the Crusaders undertook an exhausting day’s march, spent a terrible night without water, and were surrounded and constantly harassed. The following day they faced Saladin’s forces at the Horns of Ḥaṭṭin and fought throughout the day, with smoke from grass fires set by the enemy pouring into their faces. When the infantry broke ranks, the essential coordination with the cavalry was shattered, and the Crusaders’ fate was sealed. By the time Saladin’s final charge ended the battle, most of the knights had been slain or captured. Only Raymond of Tripoli, Reginald of Sidon, Balian of Ibelin, and a few others escaped.

The king’s life was spared, but Saladin killed Reginald of Châtillon and ordered the execution of some 200 Templars and Hospitallers (religio-military orders discussed below). Other captive knights were treated honourably, and most were later ransomed. Less fortunate were the foot soldiers, most of whom were sold into slavery. Virtually the entire military force of the kingdom of Jerusalem had been destroyed. To make matters worse, Saladin captured the relic of the True Cross, which he sent to Damascus, where it was paraded through the streets upside down.

Saladin quickly followed up his victory in the Battle of Ḥaṭṭin by taking Tiberias and moving toward the coast to seize Acre (ʿAkko). By September 1187 he and his lieutenants had occupied most of the major strongholds in the kingdom and all the ports south of Tripoli Jubayl and Botron (Al-Batrūn) in the county of Tripoli and Tyre in the kingdom. On October 2 Jerusalem, then defended by only a handful of men under the command of Balian of Ibelin, capitulated to Saladin, who agreed to allow the inhabitants to leave once they had paid a ransom. Though Saladin’s offer included the poor, several thousand apparently were not redeemed and probably were sold into slavery. In Jerusalem, as in most of the cities captured, those who stayed were Syrian or Greek Christians. Somewhat later Saladin permitted a number of Jews to settle in the city.

Meanwhile, Saladin continued his conquests in the north, and by 1189 all of the kingdom was in his hands except Belvoir (modern Kokhov ha-Yarden) and Tyre. The county of Tripoli and the principality of Antioch were each reduced to the capital city and a few outposts. The majority of the 100-year-old Latin establishment in the Levant had been lost.


Astonishment of the Crusaders at the wealth of the East
The Crusaders admire the innumerable riches and luxuries sent
to Bohemond from the East.

The era of the Second and Third Crusades » The institutions of the First Kingdom

The four principalities established by the Crusaders—three after the loss of Edessa in 1144—were loosely connected, and the king of Jerusalem’s limited suzerainty over Antioch and Tripoli became largely nominal after mid century. Each state was organized into a pattern of lordships by the ruling Christian minority. The institutions of the kingdom of Jerusalem are best known, partly because its history figures more prominently in both Arab and Christian chronicles but especially because its documents were better preserved. In the 13th century the famous legal compilation the Assises de Jérusalem (Assizes of Jerusalem) was prepared in the kingdom. Though this collection reflects a later situation, certain sections and many individual enactments can be traced back to the 12th century, the period known as the First Kingdom.

In the first half of the 12th century, the kingdom presented the appearance of a typical European monarchy, with lordships owing military service and subject to fiscal exactions. There were, however, important differences, not only in the large subject population of diverse ethnic origins but also with respect to the governing minority. No great families with extensive domains emerged in the early years, and the typical noble did not, as in Europe, live in a rural castle or manor house. Although castles existed, they were garrisoned by knights and, increasingly as the century advanced, by the religio-military orders. Most barons in the kingdom lived in the fortified towns. The kings, moreover, possessed a considerable domain and retained extensive judicial rights, which made the monarchy a relatively strong institution in early Jerusalem.

Toward the middle of the century, this situation changed. Partly as a consequence of increased immigration from the West, the baronial class grew, and a relatively small group of magnates with large domains emerged. As individuals, they were less disposed to brook royal interference, and as a class and in the court of barons (Haute Cour, or High Court), they were capable of presenting a formidable challenge to royal authority. The last of the kings of Jerusalem to exercise effective power was Amalric I in the 12th century. In the final years of the First Kingdom, baronial influence was increasingly evident and dissension among the barons, as a consequence, more serious.


Godfrey meets the remains of the army of Peter the Hermit
The few surviving soldiers of Peter’s army apprise
Godfrey and his Crusaders about the massacre by the Saracens.

The era of the Second and Third Crusades » The institutions of the First Kingdom » The military orders

Another serious obstacle to the king’s jurisdiction, which did not exist in the same form in the West, was the extensive authority of the two religio-military orders. The Knights of the Hospital of St. John, or Hospitallers, was founded in the 11th century by the merchants of Amalfi to provide hospital care for pilgrims. The order never abandoned its original purpose, and, in fact, as its superb collection of documents reveals, the order’s philanthropic activities expanded. But during the 12th century, in response to the military needs of the kingdom, the Hospitallers also became an order of knights, as did the Templars, the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, so named because of their headquarters in the former temple of Solomon. The Templars originated as a monastic-military organization dedicated to protecting pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem, and their rule, composed by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, was officially sanctioned by the Council of Troyes (1128). Although the Templars and Hospitallers took monastic vows, their principal function was soldiering.

The orders grew rapidly and acquired castles at strategic points in the kingdom and in the northern states. They maintained permanent garrisons in these castles and supplemented the otherwise inadequate forces of the barons and king. Moreover, because they were soon established in Europe as well, they became international organizations. Virtually independent, sanctioned and constantly supported by the papacy, and exempt from local ecclesiastical jurisdiction, they aroused the jealousy of the clergy and constituted a serious challenge to royal authority.

The Crusaders introduced into the conquered lands a Latin ecclesiastical organization and hierarchy. The Greek patriarch of Antioch was removed, and all subsequent incumbents were Latin except in one brief period before 1170, when imperial pressure brought about the installation of a Greek. The Orthodox patriarch in Jerusalem left before the conquest and died soon after. All his successors were Latin.

Under Latin jurisdiction were the entire Latin population, as well as those natives who remained Orthodox—Greeks in Antioch and Greeks or Syrians (Melchites) in Jerusalem. Beyond that jurisdiction were a larger number of Monophysites (Jacobites or Armenians) and some few Nestorians, all adherents of doctrines that had deviated from the decisions of 5th-century ecumenical councils. A number of Maronites of the Lebanon region accepted the Latin obedience late in the 12th century. After some initial confusion, the native hierarchies were able to resume their functions.

As in the West, the church had its own courts and possessed large properties. But each ecclesiastical domain was required to furnish soldiers, and there were considerable charitable foundations. The hierarchy of the Latin states was an integral part of the church of the West. Papal legates regularly visited the East, and bishops from the Crusader states attended the third Lateran Council in 1179. Western monastic orders also appeared in the Crusader states.

In addition to the nobles and their families who had settled in the kingdom, a substantially larger number of persons were classified as bourgeois. A small number had arrived with the First Crusade; however, most were later immigrants from Europe, representing nearly every nationality but predominantly from rural southern France. In the East they became town dwellers, though a few were agriculturalists—proprietors of small estates, rarely themselves tillers of the soil, inhabiting the more modest towns. It appears some immigrants, perhaps poor pilgrims who remained, failed to obtain a reasonably settled status and could not afford the relatively small ransom offered by Saladin in 1187.

The townspeople of the First Kingdom did not, like their counterparts in Europe, aspire to political autonomy. There were no communal movements in the 12th century. The bourgeois were, therefore, subject to a king or seigneur. Some did military service as sergeants—i.e., mounted auxiliaries or foot soldiers. The bourgeois were recognized as a class in the more than 30 “courts of the bourgeois” according to procedures laid down in the Assises de la Cour des Bourgeois (Assizes of the Court of the Bourgeois), which, unlike other parts of the Assizes of Jerusalem, reflect the traditions of Roman law in southern France.

The Italians had acquired exceptional privileges in the ports because they supplied the indispensable naval aid and shipping essential to regular contact with Europe. These privileges usually included a quarter that they maintained as a virtually independent enclave. Its status was guaranteed by treaty between the kingdom and the “mother” city (Venice, Genoa, Pisa, etc.).

European settlers in the Crusader states, however, were only a small minority of the population. If the early Crusaders were ruthless, their successors, except for occasional outbursts during campaigns, were remarkably tolerant and flexible in dealing with the diverse sectors of the local population. Muslim town dwellers who had not fled were captured and put to menial tasks. Some, it is true, appeared in Italian slave marts, but royal and ecclesiastical ordinances at least restricted slave owners’ actions. Baptism brought with it immediate freedom.

Few Muslims were slaves. Most of those who remained were peasants who for centuries had been a large part of the rural population and who were permitted to retain their holdings, subject to fiscal impositions not unlike those of the European serf and usually identical to those originally levied by their former proprietors on all non-Muslims. Muslim nomads, or Bedouin, who from time immemorial had moved their herds with the changing seasons, were granted their traditional rights of pasturage by the king.

Most mosques were appropriated during the conquest, but some were restored, and no attempt was made to restrict Muslim religious observance. Occasionally a mihrab (prayer niche) was retained for Muslim worshipers in a church that had formerly been a mosque. The tolerance of the Franks, noted by Arab visitors, often surprised and disturbed newcomers from the West.


Priests exhorting the Crusaders
Through motivational speeches, the priests give the
Crusaders spiritual support and encouragement.

The era of the Second and Third Crusades » The institutions of the First Kingdom » Legal practices

Native Christians were governed according to the Assizes of the Court of the Bourgeois. Each national group retained its institutions. The Syrians, for example, maintained a court overseen by the rais (raʾīs), a chieftain of importance under the Frankish regime. An important element in the kingdom’s army, the corps of Turcopoles, made up of lightly armed cavalry units, was composed largely of native Christians, including, apparently, converts from Islam. The principle of personality of law applied to all: the Jew took oath on the Torah, the Samaritan on the Pentateuch, the Muslim on the Qurʾān, and the Christian on the Gospels.

The Jewish community of Palestine, which had declined in the 11th century, was drastically reduced by the First Crusade. As the Latin kingdom settled into a routine of government, however, the situation improved. Indeed, there is reason to believe that the later, more stable regime made possible a not-inconsiderable Jewish immigration—not, it seems, as in earlier times, from the neighbouring lands of the Middle East but from Europe.

Thus, by the 1170s the Crusader states of Outremer, as the area of Latin settlement came to be called, had developed well-established governments. With allowance made for regional differences (e.g., Antioch in its early years under the Norman dynasty was somewhat more centralized), the institutions of the northern states resembled those of Jerusalem. The governing class of Franks was no longer made up of foreign conquerors but comprised local residents who had learned to adjust to a new environment and were concerned with administration. A few—such as Reginald of Sidon and William of Tyre, the archbishop and chancellor, respectively—were fluent in Arabic. Many others knew enough of the language to deal with the local inhabitants. Franks adopted native dress, ate native food, employed native physicians, and married Syrian, Armenian, or converted Muslim women.

But the Franks of Outremer, though they sometimes acquired a love of luxury and comfort, did not lose the will or ability to confront danger; nor did they “go native.” In fundamentals, they were Latin Christians who adhered to the traditions of their French forebears. The Assizes were in French, and other documents were drawn up in Latin. William of Tyre, born in the East but educated in Europe, wrote a celebrated Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum (History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea) in the Latin style of the 12th century.

Artists and architects were influenced by Byzantine and Arab craftsmen, but Oriental motifs were usually limited to details, such as doorway carvings. A psalter for Queen Melisende in the 12th century, for example, shows certain Byzantine characteristics, and the artist may have lived in Constantinople, but the manuscript is in the then current tradition of French art. Castles followed Byzantine models and were often built on the old foundations, though Western ideas were also incorporated. New churches were built or additions made to existing structures, as, for example, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Romanesque style of the homeland.

All in all, the Franks of the First Kingdom developed a distinctive culture and achieved a sense of identity. Until baronial dissensions weakened the monarchy in later years, the Latin kingdom showed remarkable vitality and ingenuity. It was one of the more sophisticated governmental achievements of the Middle Ages.




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