The Crusades were essentially a series of religious wars initiated and sometimes conducted by the Roman Catholic Church in the medieval period. The crusaders went on several church-sanctioned campaigns; the most important ones were reclaiming the Holy Land from Islamic rulers. As Crusades have a vast history, we have compiled some interesting facts about them.
Let us take a look at 15 Interesting Facts About The Crusades.
1) In 1095, Pope Urban II declared the First Crusade
In 1095, Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos requested military support from the Roman Catholic Church in his conflict with the Turks. Pope Urban II supported his request and encouraged faithful Christians to take up arms and march to Jerusalem. Subsequently, earning the name the People’s Crusade.
2) Does the Arab-Muslim world hold a grudge?
Surprisingly, the answer is no. In fact, the Arab-Muslim world hadn’t even come across the word ‘crusade’, until European scholars and historians began to reference these historical conflicts. Most Arabic societies had long forgotten about these wars as they had happened centuries ago. It was only during the decline of the Ottoman Empire that the term resurfaced, sparking curiosity and prompting a reexamination of these centuries-old wars from a new perspective.
3) The Crusades weren’t just Christianity vs Islam battles
Although we see the Crusades as a struggle between Christians and Muslims, they in fact involved clashes with other communities as well; especially the Jews and Pagans. In fact, during the People’s Crusade, the crusaders massacred numerous Jewish communities. And the event subsequently earned the name Rhineland Massacre.The tragic event serves as a somber reminder of the violence and religious intolerance that permeated some aspects of the Crusades.
4) An interesting fact about the origin of the word ‘Crusades’
The word ‘Crusades’, wasn’t used when the wars first started. Sanctioned by the church, the Crusades were simply military expeditions. They got their current meaning in the late 18th century. The root of the word goes back to the 16th-century French word croisade, which essentially means ‘marked with the cross’.
5) The earlier words for ‘crusade’ were iter(journey), and peregrinatio(pilgrimage).
In the early days, before the term ‘crusade’ came into use, these holy endeavors were referred to as ‘iter,’ meaning a journey, and ‘peregrinatio,’ signifying a pilgrimage. These terms reflected the belief that undertaking a crusade was not only a military campaign but also a spiritual quest, emphasizing the importance of both the physical journey and the devotion to a sacred cause.
6) Nobody realised the purpose of the Crusades for ages
The ironic thing is that initially, nobody realised the purpose of the Crusades. This was because, during the medieval ages, there was lots of fighting among different communities. So when the crusaders invaded the Levant, most people thought this was just another raid.
However, when the Christians stayed back and ruled their new territories as Christendom, the magnitude of the situation dawned upon the locals. Additionally, it wasn’t until 1105, that the conquered Muslims started talking about waging jihad in response, and it was in 1144 that they actually initiated it.
7) Contrary to popular belief the Crusades weren’t entirely carried out by the Catholics
During the medieval ages, most Europeans were Catholics, so many people associate the Crusades with them. However, the Catholic crusaders were often joined by members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Armenian Christians, Russian Christians and Greek Christians.
8) Christopher Columbus was a crusader?
Columbus was a devout Christian. And according to a theory, he might have been a crusader. The theory states that when Columbus exploited the regions of the Caribbean, he was accumulating funds to finance a new crusade driven by his fervent religious beliefs and the desire to reclaim holy sites. While this theory remains speculative, it adds an intriguing layer to Columbus’ motivations and actions during his expeditions.
9) An interesting fact about the ‘Tafurs’, the infamous hungry crusaders
‘Tafurs’, derived from the Latin word “tafursus” meaning beggar, were a notorious group among the crusaders. These individuals, who had sworn to a life of poverty, possessed no personal belongings and survived solely on meager sustenance like grass and roots. Astonishingly, historical accounts suggest that some of them even resorted to cannibalism in their extreme conditions, making them one of the most peculiar and enigmatic factions of the Crusades.
10) ‘Deus vult!’ The official battle cry of the crusaders
According to the Gesta Francorum Chronicle, the battle cry of the First Crusade was “Deus vult” or “God wills it.” This powerful phrase echoed through the ranks of the crusaders, inspiring their zeal and determination in reclaiming the Holy Land. Interestingly, the impact of this battle cry was so profound that it transcended the First Crusade and became a rallying cry for numerous subsequent Crusades, symbolising the fervent religious motivation behind these military campaigns.
11) The First Crusade was the only successful one
The First Crusade was initiated for taking back the Holy Land of Jerusalem from the Muslim Seljuk Empire. The crusaders were successful in their campaign. A major reason for this was that during that time the Muslims were disunited and were highly suspicious of each other. This internal fragmentation weakened their defense and made it easier for the crusaders to seize important territories, marking a turning point in the history of the Crusades.
12) The crusaders plundered a Christian city
An interesting fact about the Fourth Crusade is that it targeted a Christian city called Zara. Due to the failure of the previous Crusades, Pope Innocent III declared a new crusade. Within the next two years, about 35,000 men gathered for the cause. Many of these men needed funds to be able to travel. Additionally, most of them hailed from Venice. Innocent asked the Venetians to give him access to their ships to transport the crusaders, in return for payment. However, they weren’t able to raise funds!
The question arose of how to raise funds. The answer came in the form of the city of Zara. The city had revolted against Venetian rule in 1183 and declared itself part of the Kingdom of Hungary.
To kill two birds with one stone, the Venetians ordered the crusaders to plunder the city for its riches. The pope was highly against this but the crusaders did not pay him any heed. They went on to pillage, plunder and rape the inhabitants of Zara. Shockingly the Fourth Crusade did not stop here. The crusaders then went on to plunder and sack another Christian city- Constantinople.
13) Another fact about the Fourth Crusade is that it was instrumental in creating a strong separation between Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Additionally, the crusade dealt an irreversible blow to the Byzantine Empire and ultimately led to its decline and fall.
The crusaders’ diversion from their original goal of retaking Jerusalem led to the siege and looting of Constantinople, resulting in the empire’s decline and eventual fall. This unforeseen consequence highlights the complex and far-reaching impacts of the Crusades on both religious and political realms.
14) The Children’s Crusade
The Children’s Crusade of 1212 was an unfortunate event that took place during Europe’s crusade frenzy. Essentially a huge group of 30,000 young adults took the crusaders’ vow and set out to reclaim the Holy Land. However, this was not an official crusade and was not sanctioned by the pope.
Ultimately the crusade was a failure. Additionally, none of the children ever made it to Jerusalem as most of them died or were sold into slavery.
15) Knights Templar
The last interesting fact about the Crusades is that they employed the services of the Knights Templar. Who subsequently became its best warriors. The Knights Templar are also instrumental in managing the economic infrastructure throughout Christendom. Additionally, they made several financial innovations that were a precursor to early banking.