Every so often I receive an email from a student looking for information pertaining to history or archaeology for a research paper. I’m not the expert let me assure you of that, but I appreciate history just as much as I enjoy archaeology.
The question is : What were the Crusades?
The crusades were an attempt by the papacy to demonstrate their influence over European society. It was a war between the godly followers and the infidels. Due to developments in the Islamic and Byzantine world, this gave rise to the new European civilization to expand their borders. As a new dynasty emerged, the demand for knights was answered leading to the first crusades which were precipitated by various religious aspects and conflicts, and tempted warriors to fight for their religion and engage in their favorite pastime-fighting.
After the division of the Catholic Church of the west and the Eastern Orthodox Church of the Byzantine Empire, the state of the empire was weakened. The head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Michael Cerularius, refused to accept the pope as the sole head of the church which resulted in a great schism between the two branches of Christianity.
The Byzantine Empire was constantly open to external threats from the Turks, Normans, and the Pechenegs. So when a new dynasty was formed by Alexius I Comnenus, the leader turned to the west for assistance in a holy war, and his requests were positively answered leading to the crusades.
Christians were on holy pilgrimage to rid the world of infidels and unbelievers, those being the Muslims. So when the pope saw an opportunity to provide papal leadership for a great cause, they rallied the warriors in an attempt to liberate Jerusalem and the Holy Land. The pope promised knights remission of sins allowing for the knights, who died in battle against the pagans, to be absolved from sin through the power of God which the pope had been invested.
The knights of the crusade were initially tempted by religious fervor, adventure, and the opportunity to engage in fighting. Others believed they would gain more land and holdings, a title, and even salvation. Merchants believed the crusades would allow for greater trade opportunities in the Muslim Lands. It was simply a war to rid Europe of young nobles who insisted upon fighting each other, thereby turning the tables and giving them a new target.
The crusades were a massacre that brought about evil side effects that effected the society of Europe for centuries. The hopes of reviving more trade during the crusades would have had the same results without the murders of thousands of people. Not much as changed even today as Christians and Muslims lay in dispute over the Holy Land.