The Crusades


I was talking to a Protestant friend and the issue of the Crusades came up. I don’t know much about them and had trouble justifying the wars. Can anyone offer some resources or information on either how the Church justifies them and a good source for general information on the matter? I didn’t find any tracks on the site.



After looking around I found some answers to my previous question. I am looking for more information that I didn’t find though.

Why we couldn’t have just ‘Put it all in God’s hands’ similarly to how Joshua marched around Jericho for a while until the walls fell down. Why should we have done anything but ‘live out the Gospel’?

When Peter cut off the soldier’s ear in the garden, Jesus told Peter to put down his sword, not continue fighting. Would Jesus wanted have wanted us to return the hostility of the Muslims with more violence? or simply continue putting our trust in Him and live our life by his teachings?



Jesus did not allow Peter to fight to protect him because he knew that his death had to occur for our salvation. That should not be taken to mean that we can never defend ourselves or others; on the contrary, we have an obligation to defend life and freedom.

My degree is in history, mainly medieval, and the crusades are something that I have studied in particular. You might mention to your friend that if not for the crusades, we would likely all be speaking Arabic right now. Western Europe was threatened by the rapid expansion of the Arabs and the Byzantine Empire was unable to hold them off on their own (Constantinople itself had been besieged on more than one occasion). What the First Crusade was was a response to a call for aid from the Byzantines. Pope Urban II in his speech calling for the First Crusade cited helping our Eastern Christian brothers as the main reason for the crusade.

I have some books on the subject that I can reference if you want more information, but I don’t have them with me right now.

In Christ,


Hey BCven.

The crusades is quite a broad term. maybe in order for you the get the proper response you could be more precise…
there are many deeply regrettable things that happend during the crusades and in connection with them.
If somebody states that fact then its better to admit it than to cover it up…


It is not a whole lot different than World War II. No one really questions the need to stop Hitler and Hirohito and company. Some of the things we did to win that war were justifiable in our minds at the time in the heat of the struggle, but in retrospect carpet bombing of major cities, the two atom bombs on Japan, numerous other smaller items like sometimes not taking prisoners, and the like are at least questionable today. Than, even if our presence in Iraq is justifiable, the amount of collateral damage to civilians will be questioned by our descendants. The Crusades were justifiable war, but even in justifiable war very nasty things usually happen. It is the nature of war.


Yeah I used all those arguments, I guess what our discussion really came down to was an argument over pacifism. Sure, we should have a right to defend ourselves; we both agreed on that. But at what point are we ‘allowed’ to go on the offensive? At what point are we justified in using violence instead of just showing God’s love and committing to martyrdom? This of course is a gray area for sola-scriptura protestants, however I understand completely that this is up to the Church. Thanks.


Uh…the Crusades were justifiable? Hm. That’s kind of interesting. I mean, maybe to the people who were fighting in them, but I don’t think you can say people who go kick a bunch of Muslims and Jews out of Jerusalem because we think the Holy Land belongs to us is really nice. I think it speaks to the nature of the wars that Saladin was tons nicer to Jews and Christians than Richard the Lionhearted was to Jews and Muslims.

Anyway. I guess you could say they were justifiable if you stretched some stuff.


Were we justified in joining the allies in the war against Hitler? I don’t agree that we have to stretch anything and yes there were some crusaders who committed war crimes, just as happened at Mai Lai in Viet Nam, but one of them was not Richard the Lion Hearted and the story about the streets of Jerusalem running with blood were just that, stories. Somewhere you have picked a very un-historical notion of the Crusades.

Go to:

and search for an article by Thomas A. Madden on the true story of the crusades. It was still running right up front early in the week. It is one of many new unbiased studies of the crusades.

The Holy Land did belong to us, the Eastern Christians, until it was conquered by the Muslims in about the 7th century. Conquered with the sword by the way. It was the Romans who booted the Jews out of Jerusalem in about 75 A.D. Where did you learn your history? Sunday School class? Also scroll down below these posts and check out some of the past threads on the Crusades that are on these forums


My impression is, as someone said earlier, that the Crusades varied a great deal. It’s hard to generalize about them.

However, some things are worthy of note.

The Arabs did, indeed, conquer the Middle East by the sword. Early on, when Christians were still the majority, their rule was fairly benign. Still, Christians were discriminated against in a number of ways. As their numbers decreased, Arab rule grew harsher.

Still, it was relatively benign until the Seljuk Turks conquered the Arab rulers. It was the Seljuks who denied access of Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem. That was the precipitating cause.

It should be remembered that the Arabs did not appreciate the Seljuks either, for the most part. When the Crusaders came, and after initial bad contact, Arabs actually lived in peace and relative harmony with Crusader rulers. Ordinary people, Muslim, Christian or Jew, did not much care who their rulers were, because Arab rule prior to the Seljuks had become just as feudal as Europe. It didn’t matter too much who lived in the castle. The residents of the castle normally didn’t treat the peasants too harshly, because their own livelihood depended on them.

Not infrequently, Arab Muslims and Christian crusaders joined together in feudal battles against common enemies.

The real end for the Crusades came when the Mamluks turned down offers of Crusader alliance in fighting the Mongols and drove the Crusdaders from Palestine. The Mamluks defeated the Mongols, but not before the Mongols had ravaged a good part of the Middle East; a ravaging from which it never reallly recovered. A later Central Asian (largely Turkic) force under Timur swept in and destroyed what the Mongols and Mamluks didn’t. In the meanwhile, yet another Turkic group, the Ottomans, had taken over formerly Byzantine Asia Minor. Timur and the Ottomans fought each other to a mutually wrecked standstill. Timur’s death ended the domination of his forces, the Ottomans then divided the Middle East between themselves and the Persians. Ottoman misrule is legendary.

Some believe that the Ottomans “saved Europe” by fighting Timur to a standstill. However, that is made doubtful by the increasingly difficult time the Mongols had earlier when they moved into the periphery of Western Europe; an effort which the Mongols ultimately gave up. Neither their army nor that of Timur was well adapted to the narrower battlefields and damp climate of Europe, where heavily armed, extremely well-trained knights and wooden bows (rather than compound Asian bows) held the advantage.

In the context of the truly awful history of the Middle East, say what one will, Crusader abuses were minor and their rule was actually pretty benign, on the whole. They had actually reached a point in which they lived in mutually beneficial, peaceful co-existence with the next-nearest power; the Arab rulers of Egypt. The latter, however, were deposed by the Turkic Mamluks, and the rest, of course, is history.


I don’t think the Church as a whole justifies them. Many of the actions taken as part of the Crusades were clearly wrong. Military action aimed at protecting Eastern Christians from Muslim aggression was legitimate in principle. But those two statements leave a lot of room for doubt and discussion.



The Fourth Crusade was a real disaster and most certainly it was morally wrong for Catholic crusaders to rape all those Eastern Orthodox nuns and to steal all those priceless artifacts from the Eastern Orthodox Churches and place them in Roman Catholic Churches.


They were, of course, excommunicated by the Pope for attacking Constantinople. Some 2,000 Byzantines, including combatants, died during it. Shortly before that, the Byzantines had massacred some 10,000 Italian noncombatants in Constantinople. It was a harsh age.


Actually, they were already excommunicated before ever attacking Constantinople. They did the same thing at an Italian island and were excommunicated then.

In Christ,


However, what happened to all the precious and priceless artifacts which were stolen and looted from the Eastern Orthodox Churches? Weren’t they transported to the West and accepted and placed in Roman Catholic Churches? For example, there were priests’ cloaks, censors, holy water vessels,crosses, chandeliers, hyssops, ciboriums, candelabras, plates of gold and silver, relics, works of art by famous masters, icons, gold jeweled crowns, etc., all stolen from the Eastern Orthodox and placed in Roman Catholic Churches in the West?


Agreed. They were told they would be excommunicated automatically if they attacked any Christian people.


Doubtless some were. Looters, including Byzantine emperors, often shared their loot with the church. We do not now know whether the various churches bought them or even knew what their origin was. I don’t have an inventory, and I doubt anyone else does either. Many claims could be made at this time, including by the Turks who could argue that anything old that looks Byzantine should be “restored” to the “people of Constantinople”, and put in a museum. But having been involved many times in litigation in which objects are claimed when those who claim them were alive when the alleged wrongful taking took place and when the litigation was carried out, I very much question how validly such claims could be made. It might be noted that the Byzantines also seized Latin churches, lock, stock and barrel. What became of all that stuff? I doubt any reliable inventory of that exists either, but I suspect there are some unpedigreed items in Orthodox churches here and there that have a Latin appearance to them.

Of course, too, earlier crusades restored to the Byzantines substantial areas that had previously been conquered by the Arabs, or the Turks from the Arabs or the Byzantines. Doubtless the Byzantines obtained some loot from those campaigns. Can any loot taken in those campaigns truly be distinguished from any loot taken in the Fourth Crusade? And to whom would such things belong?

For some time after the Arab seizure of the Middle East, the artisans were still largely Byzantine. If crusaders seized any of their stuff, to whom should it now go, even if it can be identified with certainty?

In Polish churches are things taken from the Turks at the siege of Vienna; gifts made by returning soldiers of Jan Sobieski. Do such things need to be restored to the Turks? And from whom did the Turks, perhaps, take them?

What is the point here? Is your purpose to claim that the Catholic Church is a thief? Do you have a provable claim to take before the EU court? If so, I guess you are free to make it.

A number of churches (and doubtless other items) now in the possession of various protestant churches were once the property of Catholic churches. What do we do about them?

Since the Fourth Crusade was post-schism (and I’ll stipulate that the East claims the West is schismatic and vice-versa) can it be definitively be said that the “loot” of the fourth Crusade did not belong to the Catholic Church all along? Does the Catholic Church have the primary claim to Hagia Sophia? It could certainly be argued that it does. The Turks, of course, think it belongs to them.


Yes, that seems to be the attitude of the Catholic Church, at least at that time, that all of this precious loot which was stolen from the Greek Churches actually belonged to the Roman Catholic Church so there was no harm in seizing it. And if you would go to St. Mark’s in Venice, or even read about it, you will see many of the items on display.


I don’t think the Turks have made a claim as of this writing.


However, much of the booty is in Catholic Churches today. For example, the Church of St. Mark’s in Venice is adorned inside and out with Byzantine spoils. Visible in the exterior, west facade, you will see columns, capitals, and sculptures taken from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade, including the four gilded horses above the main portal. Inside you will see things such as a white alabaster, gold, silver and enamel, 6-lobed pate which holds an enameled bust of Christ with a metal rim adorned with cabochon jewels - located now in the Treausry of St. Mark’s Church but was part of the booty taken from the Orthodox during the Fourth Crusade. Obviously, these stolen items should be returned to the Greek Orthodox Church.

According to Speros Vryonis, Byzantium and Europe, p.152:
“The Latin soldiery subjected the greatest city in Europe to an indescribable sack. For three days they murdered, raped, looted and destroyed on a scale which even the ancient Vandals and Goths would have found unbelievable. Constantinople had become a veritable museum of ancient and Byzantine art, an emporium of such incredible wealth that the Latins were astounded at the riches they found. Though the Venetians had an appreciation for the art which they discovered (they were themselves semi-Byzantines) and saved much of it, the French and others destroyed indiscriminately, halting to refresh themselves with wine, violation of nuns, and murder of Orthodox clerics. The Crusaders vented their hatred for the Greeks most spectacularly in the desecration of the greatest Church in Christendom. They smashed the silver iconostasis, the icons and the holy books of Hagia Sophia, and seated upon the patriarchal throne a whore who sang coarse songs as they drank wine from the Church’s holy vessels.”


This tired old complaint belongs in the non-Catholic section, where it was relegated before. It is, of course, interesting that 2,000 Byzantines died INCLUDING COMBATANTS. The Byzentines murdered 10,000 Italians shortly before and thoroughly looted their homes, churches and property. It was a harsh age. Emperor Isaac Angelus and his son actually invited the Crusaders to Constantinople, to put them back on the throne when Isaac had been deposed and blinded by his usurping brother. The Crusaders, though excommunicated for the whole deal, did their part. Isaac and his son did not. Their part of the deal was to pay the Crusaders’ expenses, provide transport to Palestine and provide 10,000 Byzantine soldiers for the Crusade. They were again deposed when the ruling class found out about the deal, and the next usurper tried to starve the Crusaders outside the city walls. Then, insanely, the Byzantines attacked the crusaders outside the walls, but apparently were not aware of the fighting ability of the Franks. 8,000 overwhelmingly outnumbered but enraged Franks then took a city of a million people. Even more insanely, Isaac and his sone had brought Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice into the deal. Dandolo had been blinded by the Byzantines previously, and narrowly escaped with his life when the earlier massacre of Italians took place. It’s amazing that no more than 2,000 (again, including Byzantine soldiers) died in it, and it’s amazing that Dandolo left a stone on a stone.

There was a lot of blame to go around.

But, of course, some Eastern Orthodox seem to think it’s a cause for a present complaint against the Catholic Church.

Oh, and the horses of St. Mark’s, which are identifiable loot, were never ecclesiastical art, and never belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church. They were taken from a racetrack. The best adverse claim to them would be made by Turkey, not by you.

Byzantine art is in hundreds of museums all over the world. Polish ecclastical art is still in Russian museums. But I don’t think the Poles fixate on that. Certainly the Orthodox don’t.

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