The Crusades

I apologise if I am using the wrong forum for this!

I have recently been reading about the crusades, but I am aware that the books I am reading are probably from a non-religious viewpoint. I can see that a lot of the violence that occurred during the crusades was wrong, but at the same time I realise that we can’t simply look at them with a modern mindset; war was commonplace, as was killing your enemies. Pagan kingdoms had been converted, and many of the leaders would have come from a history of warrior kings. To then be told you could kill in the name of Christ was surely something that greatly appealed to these men - and thus I can understand why, with the added pains of starvation, dehydration, and constant death around them as they travelled for so long, these soldiers often simply went totally overboard with their killing.

Nonetheless, I would like to know a more Catholic side to the story, and, if possible, an Islamic side, Jewish side and Orthodox side. I know they wanted to free the Holy Lands, but were Christians being badly persecuted? Because often what I have read suggests that they were not treated terribily, and sometimes it is stated that actually things weren’t that bad at all.

Lastly, I know that the Pope has authority over the Church, but was it right for the Popes at the time to grant absolution of sins in return for killing? I mean, I realise he did have the authority to command it, but did he really have the authority to think it was okay? If you understand what I am trying to say here…(forgive me if I’m making no sense!)

The Christians were being badly persecuted. Also, Turkish forces (e.g. “Ghazi”) were raiding Byzantine territory enough that the Byzantines asked for assistance from the West. In many cases, the (Muslim) inhabitants of Middle Eastern cities (like Jerusalem) preferred the rule of the Crusaders (in the form of the Latin Kingdoms) to that of the Turks.


You may find this helpful:

For the most part, the Crusades were a response to Islamic aggression. Treatment of Christians in the Holy Land varied.

There were many terrible things done by both sides, although most of these terrible things were considered normal at the time (which doesn’t make them less terrible, but does make it more understandable that they occurred). From the linked article:

“On July 15, 1099, nearly two years after they began to fight their way to the Holy Land, the Crusaders successfully took Jerusalem. But unfortunately, the papal legate who had accompanied them had died. Without his restraint—which had been evident throughout the march to Jerusalem—the crusading army stormed the walls and engaged in a general slaughter of the population. (This was not uncommon at the time. If a city staunchly resisted an attack, its slaughter was almost inevitable. When the Islamic leader Saladin retook Jerusalem in 1187, his charity became legendary: After negotiations, instead of slaughter, those who could afford it were allowed to buy their freedom. Those who could not—men, women and children—were sold into slavery. Such were the times.)”

Note that “legendary charity” at the time was enslaving the population of a city. Still better than what the Crusaders did (in that particular instance), but the fact that this was considered unprecedentedly kind tells us something.

The sack of Constantinople was a result of political posturing, debt, and blatant stupidity.

I see! I remember reading that the Byzantine emporer was probably expectecting just some help rather than a full blown crusade, which seemed to me as though they were implying there needn’t have ever been a crusade. Thank you!

That is very interesting! -But yes, when I read that Saladin, after taking Jerusalem, was going to merely enslave the population, I have to admit I was surprised after reading of all the killings that had been going on! I’m not sure if you were suggesting that the Islamic side was brutal usually or that both sides were, but nonetheless I agree in that it really does give an insight to what was considered the norm in warfare then… !

-and thank you for the link : )

Very interesting. :3

If you are wondering why the Crusades were called, you just need to look at this map.

Ya, those cities didn’t raise the flag of the prophet from peaceful preaching and diplomacy. The Crusades were only called after hundreds of years of unprovoked steam-rolling over Christian lands.

Anyway, killing is not intrinsically bad. Murder is intrinsically bad. But killing in the context of a just war or in self defense (the Crusades definitely qualify for both of those) is completely fine.

This quote is also very telling (note: Franks=Crusaders)

“We left Tibnin by a road running past farms where Muslims live who do very well
under the Franks-may Allah preserve us from such a temptation! … The Muslims
own their own houses and rule themselves in their own way. This is the way the
farms and big villages are organized in Frankish territory. Many Muslims are
sorely tempted to settle here when they see the far from comfortable conditions
in which their brethren live in the districts under Muslim rule. Unfortunately
for the Muslims, they have always reason for complaint about the injustices of
their chiefs in the lands governed by their coreligionists, whereas they can
have nothing but praise for the conduct of the Franks, whose justice they can
always rely on.”

Ibn Jubayr’s (a Muslim traveler, who lived between 1145-1217)

What rarely comes up in discussions of the Crusades was the fact that Islam from its beginning in 610AD until the start of the first Crusade (less than 500 years), is the fact that Islam was spread by the sword from Mecca and al-Medina through all of Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, all of what is now Turkey (except for Constantinople), North Africa and parts of Southern Spain. All of these territories had been Christianized by the year 450.
When an area was conquored, an individual had a choice: renounce Christianity and convert to Islam, or die. Untold thousands died, but a larger number converted.
The first Crusade was declared when Turkish forces conquored Jerusalem and proceeded to kill Christians and destroy Christian Sacred sites. It was in this period that the Dome of the Rock Mosque was built on the site of the Jewish Temple.
You cannot judge anything that happened militarily during that period. It was a particularly brutal period in both the Near and Mid-East as well as in Europe. Both sides exhibited behavior that today is considered brutal and unacceptable-but was considered acceptable at that time.
The common weapons of the day were Maces (war-clubs) Axes and knives. Regardless of what you see in the movies. swords were not available for the common soldier. They were reserved for the nobility. Bows and arrows were not widely used, and combat was largely eye ball to eye ball-hand to hand, and was brutal and gorey.
The concept of supply lines in warfare had not yet developed by either side. Armies lived off the land; that is, they stole from the civilians. And, if the civilians were successful in hiding their food stocks, they were tortured until they gave them up.
If, G*d forbid, the West gets into a major war with any Islamic State in the future, it will be a repeat of the Crusades in terms of brutality-only on a much more vast scale due to modern weapons. What happened in both Iraq wars and Afghanistan will be amateur night in comparison…and in the next one, you will see Pakistan taken over by the Radicals and India will get into it because of Pakistans nuclear weaponry.

I believe there was the option of “dhimma,” that is, taxation and (symbolic) restrictions on behaviour (such as not being allowed to ride a horse) to avoid forced conversion.

This quote may also highlight a slight disparity between Christianity and Islam in the realm of waging war:

There were 463 years between Mohammed’s death in 632 AD and the calling of a Crusade to free lands that had been Christian before the Muslim invaders arrived; but to hear what passes for common “knowledge” [from self-hating Christians at that!], the whole affair was solely the fault of power-hungry popes, greedy soldiers of fortune, and Christians who were persecuting harmless, pious

Muslims minding their own business. Muslims are only too happy to help Christians perpetuate this mea maxima culpa attitude.

Stenhouse[1] lists only some of the events that took place in those 463 years, among them,
633 – Mesopotamia falls to Muslim invasion, followed by the entire Persian Empire
635 – Damascus falls
638 – Jerusalem capitulates
643 – Alexandria falls, ending 1,000 years of Hellenic civilization
648-49 – Cyprus falls
653 – Rhodes falls
673 – Constantinople attacked
698 – All of North Africa lost
711 – Spain invaded
717 – Muslims attack Constantinople again; repelled by Emperor Leo the Isaurian
721 – Saragossa falls, Muslims sights on southern France
720 – Narbonne falls.
732 – Bordeaux was stormed and its churches burnt down
732 – Charles Martel and his Frankish army defeat Muslims, turning back the Muslim tide
732 – Attacks on France continued
734 – Avignon captured by an Muslim force
743 – Lyons sacked
759 – Arabs driven out of Narbonne.
838 – Marseilles plundered
800 – Muslims incursions into Italy begin, Islands of Ponza and Ischia plundered
813 – Civitavecchia, the port of Rome sacked
826 – Crete falls to Muslim forces
827 – Muslim forces begin to attack Sicily.
837 – Naples repels a Muslim attack
838 – Marseilles taken
840 – Bari falls
842 – Messina captured and Strait of Messina controlled
846 – Muslims squadrons arrived at Ostia, at the Tiber’s mouth, sack Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica
846 – Taranto in Apulia conquered by Muslim forces
849 – Papal forces repel Muslim fleet at the mouth of the Tiber
853 – 871 – Italian coast from Bari down to Reggio Calabria controlled, Muslims terrorize Southern Italy.
859 – Muslims take control of all Messina
870 – Malta captured by the Muslims.
870 – Bari recaptured from the Muslims by Emperor Louis II
872 – Emperor Louis II defeats a Saracen fleet off Capua
872 – Muslim forces devastate Calabria
878 – Syracuse falls after a nine-month siege
879 – Pope John VIII forced to pay tribute of 25,000 mancuses (AUD$625,000) annually to the Muslims
880 – Byzantine Commanders gain victory over Saracen forces at Naples
881 – Muslims capture fortress near Anzio, plunder surrounding countryside with impunity for forty [40] years.
887 – Muslim armies take Hysela and Amasia, in Asia Minor.
889 – Toulon captured
902 – Muslim fleets sacked and destroyed Demetrias in Thessaly, Central Greece,
904 – Thessalonica falls to Muslim forces
915 – After three months of blockade, Christian forces victorious against Saracens holed-up in their fortresses north of Naples
921 – English pilgrims to Rome crushed to death under rocks rolled down on them by Saracens in the passes of the Alps
934 – Genoa attacked by Muslim forces
935 – Genoa taken
972 – Saracens finally driven from Faxineto
976 – Caliphs of Egypt send fresh Muslim expeditions into southern Italy. Initially the German Emperor Otho II , who had set up his headquarters in Rome, successfully defeated these Saracen forces
977 – Sergius, Archbishop of Damascus, expelled from his See by Muslims
982 – Emperor Otho’s forces ambushed and his army defeated
1003 – Muslims from Spain sack Antibes
1003-09 – Marauding bands of Saracens plunder Italian coast from Pisa to Rome from bases on Sardinia
1005 – Muslims from Spain sack Pisa
1009 – Caliph of Egypt orders destruction of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the Tomb of Jesus
1010 – Saracens seize Cosenza in southern Italy.
1015 – All Sardinia falls
1016 – Muslims from Spain again sack Pisa
1017 – Fleets of Pisa and Genoa sail for Sardinia, find Saracens crucifying Christians, drive Saracen leader out. Saracens try to re-take Sardinia until 1050
1020 – Muslims from Spain sack Narbonne
1095 – The First Crusade.
While the pope has apologized for the Crusades, Muslims have never so much as acknowledged any responsibility.


Here’s a nice site on the Crusades…

I read an article from which it stated when it comes to disparity nothing could be greater than comparing Islam attacks on Jerusalem vs Christian attack on Mecca.

Sadly it was not enough for Islamists to be satisfied with keeping Mecca alone as their “Holy Land”.


There have been some good responses in this thread.

I would add that Saladin the Great was a good man. However, he did have all the Templars and Hospitalars slaughtered after the Battle of Hattin because he viewed them as zealots that would never give up fighting and both orders had a policy of not paying ransom prices for any of their captured warrior-monks. Plus, according to Saladin members of neither order would accept doing accept doing slave work. In other words he had no use for them.

When the Twin Towers fell everyone in the U.S. wanted war. People throughout Western Europe shed tears and then agreed to join in the fight. It did not take them 100 or more years to decide upon this.

What is a New York City, London, or Paris? It is a secular Holy See of sorts.

Islamic forces had already taken the Holy Sees of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch.

In other words it was not the Twin Towers falling but the whole cities of New York, London, and Paris that had been taken by “enemy” forces.

Also, the Crusaders were not a professional military force, and they were pretty barbarian even to the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Eastern peoples of the time. Even to the wealthy, civilized subject of Byzantium. In modern times it is understood that troops need strong, moral leadership in battle to restrain them from committing atrocities. The war crimes that occurred at Mi Lai during the Vietnam War is a case example of that.

I like the image the author of the book Triumph gives of the Crusaders. He suggests we think of them as Vietnam Vets, with long hair and beards, riding on motorcycles to Washington D.C.

And the Crusaders themselves probably exaggerated their war crimes at Jerusalem. According to one or more of them they murdered so many people of the city that blood reached high up the legs of their horses as they rode through the city streets. But modern understanding of forensic science tells us the slaughtered at Jerusalem would not have produced literal rivers of blood anywhere near that height. But the fact that some of them thought that was something to brag about tells you the kind of people you were dealing with.

A Muslim that lived among the Crusaders in one of the Crusader kingdoms has surviving writing that recounts an injured Frank who had a wounded leg. According to him it was an injury the Muslims could have healed with their own herbal medicines. But the Crusaders? They took turns hacking at this poor guys leg - with either a swords or a battle axe but I can’t remember which.

Thank you everyone! Your replies have been extremely helpful!

I wasn’t really aware of how much conquering had been going on beforehand which doesn’t always get mentioned. Also, I forgot that typically people were killed/forced to convert when that happened! Although, as Byrnwiga said, there seem to have been an option for increased taxes etc too.

Persecution of Jews in the First Crusade

Ironically enough, if the " Holy Land " or Israel were to be occupied today; there would be international outcry to rush to their assistance.

Yes, lest we forget - surely that’s the most important aspect of the Reconquista - not the fact that finally action was taken by Europeans to beat back the bedouins. Not the fact of the glorious victories - suck it up

I’m not sure such a thing as unbiased history accounts actually exist. It sounds like you’ve already read many of todays secular accounts (written by English speaking historians, which has a historical anti-catholic bias dating back to the protestant reformation). I suggest reading a professional historical account from the catholic perspective, such as “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.” Perhaps not unbiased and not to be read as the ONLY source you’ll ever consult. But a rather nice antidote to the inherently anti-catholic approach typical in English language history. Consider it fair counter-balance and it will serve you well.

One doesn’t have to be anti-Catholic to acknowledge that entire Jewish communities were slaughtered wholesale even before the Crusaders left Europe:

And no- this should not have any influence on our relations today. As far as I am concerned, the only thing that counts is from this second forward.

I would recommend two good books
first is “Seven Lies About Catholic History” by Diane Moczar which covers the Crusades
second is “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam” by Robert Spencer. half of that book covers the crusades. Both might give you the why and history of them and what did and didn’t happen.

Yes, these things never should have happen. As I read the link, it did say that they were condemned by Church leaders like St. Bernard of Charvioux.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit