The Crusades were a series of several military campaigns—usually sanctioned by the Papacy—that took place during the 11th through 13th centuries. Originally, they were Roman Catholic endeavors to capture the Holy Land from the Muslims, but some were directed against other Europeans, such as the Fourth Crusade against Constantinople, the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars of southern France and the Northern Crusades.

The Major Crusades

A traditional numbering scheme for the crusades gives us nine during the 11th to 13th centuries, as well as other smaller crusades that are mostly contemporaneous and unnumbered. There were frequent "minor" crusades throughout this period, not only in Palestine but also in Spain and central Europe, against not only Muslims, but also Christian heretics and personal enemies of the Papacy or other powerful monarchs. Such "crusades" continued into the 16th century, until the Renaissance and Reformation when the political and religious climate of Europe was significantly different than that of the Middle Ages. The following is a listing of the "major" crusades.

First Crusade

After Byzantine emperor Alexius I called for help with defending his empire against the Seljuk Turks, in 1095 Pope Urban II called upon all Christians to join a war against the Turks, a war which would count as full penance. Crusader armies marched to Jerusalem, sacking several cities on their way. In 1099, they took Jerusalem and massacred the population. As a result of the First Crusade, several small Crusader states were created, notably the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Following this crusade there was a second, unsuccessful wave of crusaders; see Crusade of 1101.

Second Crusade

After a period of relative peace, in which Christians and Muslims co-existed in the Holy Land, Bernard of Clairvaux called for a new crusade when the town of Edessa was conquered by the Turks. French and German armies marched to Asia Minor in 1147, but failed to accomplish any major successes, and indeed endangered the survival of the Crusader states with a foolish attack on Damascus. In 1149, both leaders had returned to their countries without any result.

Third Crusade

In 1187, Saladin recaptured Jerusalem. Pope Gregory VIII preached a crusade, which was led by several of Europe's most important leaders: Philip II of France, Richard I of England and Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor. Frederick drowned in Cilicia in 1190, leaving an unstable alliance between the English and the French. Philip left in 1191 after the Crusaders had recaptured Acre from the Muslims. The Crusader army headed down the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. They defeated the Muslims near Arsuf and were in sight of Jerusalem. However, an inability for Crusaders to thrive in the locale due to inadequate food and water resulted in an empty victory. Richard left the following year after establishing a truce with Saladin. On Richard's way home his ship was wrecked leading him to Austria. In Austria his enemy Duke Leopold captured him and Richard was held for a king's ransom.

Fourth Crusade

The Fourth Crusade was initiated by Pope Innocent III in 1202, with the intention of invading the Holy Land through Egypt. The Venetians gained control of this crusade and diverted it to Constantinople where they attempted to place a Byzantine exile on the throne. After a series of misunderstandings and outbreaks of violence, the city was sacked in 1204. The popular spirit of the movement was now dead, and the succeeding crusades are to be explained rather as arising from the Papacy's struggle to divert the military energies of the European nations toward Syria.

Albigensian Crusade

The Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1209 to eliminate the "heretical" Cathars of southern France. It was a decades-long struggle that had as much to do with the concerns of northern France to extend its control southwards as it did with heresy. In the end, both the Cathars and the independence of southern France were exterminated.

Children's Crusade

The Children's Crusade is a possibly fictitious or misinterpreted crusade of 1212. The story is that an outburst of the old popular enthusiasm led a gathering of children in France and Germany, which Pope Innocent III interpreted as a reproof from heaven to their unworthy elders. None of the children actually reached the Holy Land, being sold as slaves or dying of hunger during the journey.

Fifth Crusade

By processions, prayers, and preaching, the Church attempted to set another crusade on foot, and the Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215) formulated a plan for the recovery of the Holy Land. A crusading force from Hungary, Austria, and Bavaria achieved a remarkable feat in the capture of Damietta in Egypt in 1219, but under the urgent insistence of the papal legate, Pelagius, they proceeded to a foolhardy attack on Cairo, and an inundation of the Nile compelled them to choose between surrender and destruction.

Sixth Crusade

In 1228, Emperor Frederick II set sail from Brindisi for Syria, though laden with the papal excommunication. Through diplomacy he achieved unexpected success, Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethlehem being delivered to the Crusaders for a period of ten years. This was the first major crusade not initiated by the Papacy, a trend that was to continue for the rest of the century.

Seventh Crusade

The papal interests represented by the Templars brought on a conflict with Egypt in 1243, and in the following year a Khwarezmian force summoned by the latter stormed Jerusalem. Although this provoked no widespread outrage in Europe as the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 had done, Louis IX of France organized a crusade against Egypt from 1248 to 1254, leaving from the newly constructed port of Aigues-Mortes in southern France. It was a failure and Louis spent much of the crusade living at the court of the Crusader kingdom in Acre. In the midst of this crusade was the first Shepherds' Crusade in 1251.

Eighth Crusade

The eighth Crusade was organized by Louis IX in 1270, again sailing from Aigues-Mortes, initially to come to the aid of the remnants of the Crusader states in Syria. However, the crusade was diverted to Tunis, where Louis spent only two months before dying.

Ninth Crusade

The future Edward I of England undertook another expedition in 1271, after having accompanied Louis on the Eighth Crusade. He accomplished very little in Syria and retired the following year after a truce. With the fall of Antioch (1268), Tripoli (1289), and Acre (1291) the last traces of the Christian occupation of Syria disappeared.

Crusades in Baltic and Central Europe

The Crusades in the Baltic Sea area and in Central Europe were efforts by (mostly German) Christians to subjugate and convert the peoples of these areas to Christianity. These Crusades ranged from the 12th century, contemporaneous with the Second Crusade, to the 16th century


  • Carole Hillenbrand, The Crusades, Islamic Perspectives. New York, 2000.
  • P.M. Holt, The Age of the Crusades: The Near East from the Eleventh Century to 1517. New York, 1986.
  • Hans E. Mayer, The Crusades. Oxford, 1965.
  • Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading. Philadelphia, 1986.
  • Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Oxford History of the Crusades. Oxford, 1995.

External links

  • Kenneth Setton, ed., A History of the Crusades. Madison, 1969-1989 (e-book online)
  • Angeliki E. Laiou, The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World, (e-book online), includes chapter on Historiography of the crusades.
  • E.L. Skip Knox, The Crusades, a virtual college course through Boise State University.