The First Crusade
As the year 1000A.D. was approaching the strength of Christianity in Western Europe
was growing along with its population. The newly reformed and organized Church began to gain
great power. A new Europe was being born with the Catholic Church as a force in every area of
In Christian beliefs, the savior, Jesus Christ was to return to earth and bring judgment on
its people. Many clergy members along with lay people believed this would take place in the
year 1000A.D. . Knowing this, the people of Europe awaited the return of Christ and feared the
Wrath of God. Religious people wanted to make up for their sins and avoid the horrors of
eternal damnation. Clergy members were often consulted to figure out what would be a suitable
penance. " The Church itself still frequently imposed pilgrimages as a penance" (Campbell p.14).
A pilgrimage to the Holy Land was not an easy task to say the least. The road to Jerusalem was
jagged. On the way to Jerusalem, pilgrims were often murdered by thieves. They were
defenseless and often did not return. Some pilgrims did return from the Holy Land. They came
back with tales that planted the seeds for a Crusade.
" The pilgrims that returned from the Holy City of Jerusalem recounted tales, often
grossly exaggerated, of the horrible pollution of the sacred places at the hands of the Turks"
(Campbell p23). Other stories of the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the burial
place of Jesus, by the Turks surfaced in the early eleventh century. The news of the destruction
of the Sepulcher was mourned in every Christian country. The nations looked to Rome for a
solution to this most serious of Problems.
The Byzantine emperor asked for the aid of the Pope to help him with his Turk problem.
To the Pope, it would be a strategic move to aid the Byzantine emperor. The Pope realized that
this offered the opportunity to re-establish the universal Church and establish the supremacy of
Rome. In 1095, at the Council of Clermont in southern France, "Urban II challenged Christians
to take up their weapons against the infidels and participate in a holy war and recapture the Holy
Land" (Spielvogel,p344). Pope Urban II addressed the French telling them of the horrors
imposed on the Holy Land. He told them all of the destruction and desecration of churches, and
the torturous treatment of the Christian inhabitants of the Holy Land. The large crowd listening to
the Pope's speech was saddened and outraged. The Pope called on Christian knights to set out
to the Holy Land and free it from the claws of the pagan Seljuk Turks. He promised any knight
who set out to the Holy Land " the remission of sins and be sure of the incorruptible glory of the
kingdom of heaven" (Spielvogel,p345). The crowd immediately supported it by crying out " It is
the will of God"(Spielvogel,p345). This can be seen as the starting point of the period of the
A Crusade immediately followed known as the Peasant's Crusade. This Crusade was
not organized by the papacy. They were mostly poor or peasants and were inadequately
prepared. On their way to the East they terrorized the Balkans by looting and persecuting the
Jews. Eventually, they reached Constantinople and were sent by the Emperor Alexius I to Asia
Minor where they were slaughtered by the Seljuk Turks.
A papal supported Crusade was soon to follow. The soldiers for the first true Crusade
were recruited from the warrior class of knights. By 1096, " an international military force, with a
large nucleus of knights from central and southern France, Normandy, and Norman Sicily, made
its way across the Balkans and assembled in Constantinople" (Hollister,p.189). The warriors of
the First Crusade numbered around 25,000 or 30,000. The number of troops may seem
minuscule by today's standards it was " immense in the eyes of contemporaries " (
Hollister,p.189). Pope Urban II appointed Adhemar of Le Puy, a French bishop, to lead the
Crusaders into the Holy Land. The First Crusade was underway.
There were many reasons for knights to venture out to the Holy Land. Many joined the
Crusade for the Pope's pledge of the remission of sins and the incorruptible glory of the kingdom
of heaven. To them it was like an " armed pilgrimage" (Spielvogel,p346). Others saw a more
materialistic goal. They saw victory in the Holy Land as a chance to benefit themselves. They
felt they could gain territories, wealth or a title. The Crusade was not only a " Holy War."
By 1097, the noble warriors from Western Europe had reached the Byzantine capital of
Constantinople. When the Byzantine Emperor Alexius saw the amount of crusading soldiers he
was not entirely accepting. He was unsure of the true motives of the Crusaders. To him they
posed a threat to his empire due to the size of the armies. Alexius truly called on the West only to
aid him in recapturing the lost Byzantine provinces of Asia Minor. The Crusaders were
determined on the conquest of the Holy Land. Alexius made the Crusaders promise homage to
the lands they would conquer. Alexius promised the Crusaders military aid but it never truly
came. After the Crusaders left Constantinople ties with the Byzantines were severed.
The crusading armies then moved southeastward across Asia Minor. The immense
number of cavalry and foot soldiers reached the ancient city of Antioch by 1098. " After a long
and complex siege " the Crusaders captured Antioch ( Hollister,p.192). After the capturing of
Antioch, the Crusaders moved towards Palestine. In June of the year 1099 the Crusaders
reached the " Holy City " of Jerusalem. " After a five week siege ", Jerusalem was taken by
the Crusaders ( Spielvogel,p.346). The victory was celebrated by the plundering of the city.
The Crusaders carried on the "Will of God " through the brutal slaughtering of Jerusalem's non-
Christian inhabitants. Eyewitnesses described the battle as being so gruesome that their " feet
were colored to their ankles with the blood of the slain" and that " neither women nor children
were spared" (Hollister,p.193).
Conquests in the future followed. As the conquest was ending, the Crusaders set up
feudal states in the conquered lands. Four main Latin states were created. They were the
principality of Antioch, the county of Edessa, the county of Tripoli and the kingdom of Jerusalem.
The ruler of the kingdom of Jerusalem, Godffrey de Bouillon, had the most power. He held the
other states as fiefs. The Latin states relied heavily upon the Italian merchant cities for supplies
due to the fact that the lands bordering them were enemies.
The First Crusade was the most successful of the Crusades. In only three years the
Crusaders fulfilled their goal of conquering the Holy Land. They were successful in freeing the
Holy Land from the clutches of non-Christian rulers. They successfully carried out the wishes of
the Pope and , more importantly, what they believed to be the " Will of God ." The crusading
knights gained new powers through the conquest along with salvation. Economically, the First
Crusade was a success for Western Europe. New ports on the Mediterranean were in the
hands of Western lords, opening new gates for trade.
On the other hand, the First Crusade could be seen to be a failure in many ways.
Relations with the Byzantine Empire grew far more distant. The Pope's dream of unifying the
eastern and western churches could not be achieved. The gruesome display of barbarism on
behalf of the Crusaders could also be seen as a failure in morals. It seemed that the Crusaders,
for the most part, lost their way. Their goals switched from religious to materialistic.
The First Crusade was the first installment in a series that lose their " holiness" and
become less successful. Militarily, the First Crusade was an utter success. It started a hatred for
the West by the Near and Middle Eastern peoples that still is strong today.
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