A Concise History of the Crusades

The history of the Crusades in Europe and the Middle East must first be linked first and foremost to the feudal nature of medieval Europe. Due to the splintered and divisive nature of kingdoms and principalities, the sense of European and Christian identity was severely compromised. The Popes and the Catholic Church were the only force that could both unite Europe under a singular focus and help combat the rise of the Byzantine Empire and the Turks.

The notion of political unity under Church can be directly traced to the foreign policy of Leo IX and Gregory VII and the policy established by the Monks of Cluny that dramatically increased the power of the Pope over all Christian nations. For most of the existence of the Christian church, there has been a nearly constant stream of pilgrims to the Holy Land, and undoubtedly the continued veneration of the sacred city was a motivating factor for Christian unification.

The rise of the Seljuk Turks and their harassment of pilgrims and their threatening of the Byzantine Empire contributed greatly to the establishment of the first Crusade and more importantly perhaps, a Crusader tradition. Pope Urban II took over for Pope Gregory VII and utilized Gregory’s communication with Constantinople’s Emperor Michael VII to help fuel a religious unity in Europe. On the 27th of November 1095, Pope Urban II gave his infamous speech at Clermont which incited much of the population of Europe. The first wave of the first crusade was led by Peter the Hermit in 1096 and it consisted mainly of peasants. On their way to Constantinople, they attacked many Jewish communities. No doubt enraged with religious fervor, the unorganized hoards under Peter the Hermit reached Constantinople only to be ferried across the Bosporus by a nervous emperor, Alexius Comnenus. In Asia Minor the first crusaders pillaged and plundered but were annihilated by the Turks. The second wave of the first crusade was much more organized and much more successful. The armies of Hugh of Vermandois, Godfrey of Bouillon, Bohemond of Taranto, Count Stephen of Blois, Raymond of St Gilles, Duke Robert of Normandy all disembarked from Europe in 1096 and arrived in Constantinople in 1097.

The various armies that had assembled progressed to Jerusalem, then split up and began to attack various Turkish settlements on the way. The Christian forces won their first major battle at Dorylaeum, then city of Edessa fell aswell. Baldwin of Boulougne established himself as the king of Edessa and thus established the first of the Christian states. Jerusalem was conquered by the armies of Godfrey of Bouillon. The first Crusade was perceived as a success. While it promoted permanent hostility between Christian and Muslim peoples it also established the tradition of Crusader states in the Middle East, and succeeded in unifying the splintered European states under a Catholic influence.

While the first Crusade solidified the Christian identity, it also unified the warring Islamic peoples under a common threat and hatred. In 1144, the city of Edessa was recaptured. News of this caused Pope Eugenius III to call for a new crusade, a second Crusade. Two main forces set out to liberate the Christian states in the Middle East. The French were led by Louis VII and the Germans under Conrad III. After suffering numerous defeats, Conrad III left the fight, and the original focus of freeing Edessa was turned into attacking Damascus. The attack was led by Baldwin III and was disastrous. The Christian forces were forced to retreat.

While the second Crusade did not diminish the Crusading spirit in Europe, it did certainly rally the Muslim sense of a unified identity. The Crusaders were shown as fallible. From the second crusade the notion of Jihad against an occupying force was created and relations between the Christian states in the Middle East and the Catholic Church in Europe were damaged.

The third Crusade was a response to the overwhelming military success of the great Kurdish leader Saladin. Saladin recaptured most of the Crusader states and even recaptured Jerusalem. The only stronghold to remain was the city of Tyre which was too heavily defended to take over. The loss of Jerusalem in 1187 caused a massive movement towards crusading in Europe. Pope Gregory VIII called for a new Crusade which would be led by Richard of Poitou (the lion heart), King Philip II Augustus of France, and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Richard made most of the great victories, including the battle of Jaffa, which secured negations between Richard and Saladin himself. They agreed to allow Christians into Jerusalem and establish a Christian identity in the holy city. While a compromise was not what the Crusade had set out for, it did reestablish Christian presence in Jerusalem and illustrate the weakness of the mighty Saladin.

The fourth Crusade was the brainchild of Pope Innocent III and was intended to topple Egypt and thus disrupt the Muslim authority in the Middle East. The Crusaders were however led to Constantinople in 1201 to help protect the Byzantine throne. While there they placed Alexius IV on the throne. However, they soon found out that Alexius IV did not have the money necessary to pay for the Crusaders services. Thus, the Crusaders sacked the city of Constantinople and were immediately excommunicated by Innocent III for killing fellow Christians. The fourth Crusade was completely diverted and caused the final break up of the Roman Empire. Also, the fourth Crusade caused incredible hostility between Eastern and Western Europe, tension that is still present to this day.

Honorious III took up where Innocent III left off and goaded the people and kings of Europe into another Crusade intended to topple the center of Muslim power in Egypt in 1217, thus formed the fifth Crusade. The armies under control of many local Kings, and later Cardinal Pelagius, swept down the Nile River and attacked the city of Damietta and its outer fortresses. Damietta fell to the crusaders in 1219 and the Sultan offered to give back the entire region of the holy land back to the Crusaders if they stopped their progress into Egypt. While in negotiations, the Sultans armies around Damietta were refortified and then the crusaders were thoroughly routed in 1221. The last of the Crusades to attack Muslim forces, the fifth Crusade marked the end of Crusader states in the Middle East, as the armies of Baybars, the vicious Muslim leader, eliminated one by one every vestige of Christian influence in the region. Without a firmly established foothold in the Middle East, represented by the Crusader states, the Church would have no way of launching a successful campaign back into the holy land.

The Arab-Israeli Conflict
To analyze the Arab-Israeli conflict it is important to first and foremost understand the origins of the Jewish state and the conditions that established it. The Jewish population of Europe had always been a separate entity when considered in the full spectrum of European nationality. They have been persecuted and isolated as a people. Thus, a movement was envisioned by leaders of the Jewish community that would fulfill the Old Testament prophecy of establishing a Jewish state in Israel. In 1896 ‘The Jewish State’ by Theodore Herzl was published and it spread the notion of a Zionist movement throughout Europe. Congresses of Zionist supporters were held, such as the first Zionist Congress in 1897, which discussed formally a proposal for establishing a state in Palestine. While this was occurring, England was believed to be in direct control of Palestine, as it was a mandate of England after World War II. Although, the full extent of British control is never truly explicated in any one document, it can be seen in the discrepancies between the Husayn-McMahon Correspondence and the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

Thus the origins of the Jewish state in Palestine are cloudy at best. The Balfour Declaration does seem to show that there was some accepted view of what the boundaries were for British control, but it was not until the League of Nations granted Palestine to Great Britain in 1919 and then the British Mandate for Palestine in 1922 that any clear form of Jewish national identity begins. During these first formative years of Israel, tensions had already begun between the Arab population and the small nation. The Arabs believed that the partitioning of Israel by the British was unjust, and would not be content until the land that was theirs before World War I was returned. Perhaps the greatest contribution to the hostility between the Arab community and the Jewish state was the 1948 Declaration of the Independence of the State of Israel. This declaration, issued when the British were removing themselves from the Palestinian region, showed that Israel had intentions of remaining an independent state even after the influence of Israel was gone. The Arab League immediately issued a declaration of war against Israel; for they wished to return to a state similar to before they were partitioned.

Thus the first of the Arab-Israeli conflicts begins in 1948 when Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia attack Israel. The battle between Israel and the Arab nations lasts for eight months and is ended with the signing of the armistice agreements of July 1949. Israel is admitted into the United nations in May of 1949, and Israel officially wins its war for Independence in 1950. Israel establishes its capital in Jerusalem. Israel is then faced with further hostility from Egypt and its control over the Suez canal. Israel captures the Sinai Peninsula in the Sinai War in November of 1956. Under intense pressure, after nearly a decade of total hostility, Israel attacks Egyptian airfields preemptively. This begins the Six-Days War on June 5th of 1967. The Israelis win in an all out landslide, and then Israel officially Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. However, due to this victory, the Arab leaders convene in Khartoum Sudan and agree never to officially recognize or have peace with Israel. The next major conflict that occurs is the Yom Kippur War, where Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against Israel’s settlements in the Golan Heights. America is now more involved than ever in the plight of Israel due to this war and the seemingly barbarous nature of its timing. By October 24th of 1973, Egypt and Israel had already agreed to a cease fire. Because of the United States involvement in the Arab-Israeli relations, an oil embargo is placed on the United States bringing the nation to its knees. The next direct attack against Israel by another nation will be the Scud missiles that Iraq launches into downtown Israel without much success. While Iraq tried to draw Israel into the Gulf War of 1991, Israel refrained from doing so.

Perhaps the best chance for peace that the Israeli’s and the Palestinians had was at their very origin. When the Zionist movement was forming, the Zionist should not have placed the fate of their movement and the nationality of the Jewish people in the scruples of Imperialism. The Imperialistic origins of Israel are its greatest downfall on the path to true peace and nationhood. The Zionist movement should have appealed more to League of Nations and less to Great Britain that was obviously more concerned with territorial expansion than the just acquisition of land. Thus, this is also the greatest hurdle in the Establishment of a permanent peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The means by which Israel has acquired the land which it now protects so fervently are corrupt. How can any Arab Nation be willing to enter negotiations with a country it believes took his land by riding the coattails of expansionism and imperialism?

History of the Crusades as Taught by Justin Laffer
My course would follow the course of the Crusades through the middle ages with a focus on a specific timeline and chronology that would be laid out at the beginning of the year. My tests would consist of eleven multiple choice questions that would test an individual’s factual knowledge of the material, and an essay at the end of the test would analyze how an individual processes the knowledge and conceptualizes it. Broad themes would be discussed, but there would also be an intense focus on the factual information regarding the Crusades.

My tests would be supplemented by a daily quiz that would quiz the students on the previous nights reading. My course would include all of the information regarding the Crusades, but would focus much less on modern Middle Eastern issues. Instead a greater amount of time would be spent analyzing the ramifications of the Crusades in the following two to three centuries after the medieval period.

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