The first crusade set the whole ball rolling for two centuries of war between the world’s two most practiced religions. Christianity and Islam were at the gates of each other to conquer land and enslave men, women, and children.
Medieval Europe was under a strong influence of Christianity. People believed in religious values and words that came out of the Latin Church.
At the same time, the Islamic kingdom was conquering new lands and spreading towards Iran having started from modern-day Turkey.
Jerusalem was firmly under the control of the Islamic kingdom and many Christians were led to believe that the city is not pure and has to be liberated from the invaders.
On the economic front, Europe was facing class-based poverty. The rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. This divide was also becoming visible in many other values that medieval Europeans held dear.
If medieval Europe had to unite, it had to have a major goal that the Europeans would agree to and fight together for.
The First Crusade of Pope Urban II
In the 11th century, Christians in Jerusalem were persecuted in large numbers by Jerusalem’s Islamic rulers. The rate of persecution increased when the city keys passed from Egyptians to Seljuk Turks in 1071.
The growing Islamic kingdom was becoming stronger and bigger than the second strongest kingdom known to the history, Byzantine Empire.
In 1095, Pope Urban II called for a crusade to aid and unite Christians and recover the holy land. The response by Europeans was immediate. People from all the classes, sex, race and ethnicity responded to the Pope’s call for arms.
Soon an army of 90,000 people was ready to start a long, tiring and unthinkable march towards Jerusalem.
In 1096 the huge army started their long haul towards Jerusalem. The first group reached the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople. This group of people was annihilated by the Turks. The Turks brought upon them a rain of arrows killing men, women, and children indiscriminately.
Many young ladies of the group offered themselves to the Turks to save the lives of elders.
Soon after this, an army of 4,000 European knights and 25,000 infantry set for Asia Minor. In June of 1097, these forces captured the Turkish-held city of Nicaea and then defeated a massive army of Seljuk Turks at Dorylaeum.
From here, the group marched towards Antioch, modern-day Syria began a difficult six-month siege during which they repulsed several attacks by Turkish relief armies.
Antioch was a heavily fortified city and the elders of the city closed all the gates leaving Europeans outside the city to die and perish through hunger, disease, thirst and utter desperateness. Enduring all this, Europeans had one question, “Is this god’s will?”
In the early hours of June 3, 1098, Bohemond, one of the group leaders persuaded a Turkish traitor to open the Bridge Gate of Antioch city. The Knights poured into the city and massacred thousands of Muslims. The heavily fortified citadel fell to the Europeans in quick succession
Later in the month, a large Turkish army arrived to attempt to regain the city, but they too were defeated, and the Antioch citadel surrendered to the Europeans.
Boosted by this, Europeans had developed a sense of fulfillment as they were just a hand’s stretch away from liberating Jerusalem.
The siege of Jerusalem
After taking a breather from all the bloodshed before, the Europeans rested and regroup after six months. They set off to liberate the city of Jerusalem. 90,000 men, women and teenagers who started in 1096 from Vermont in France were now reduced to some 1,200 cavalries and 12,000 infantry. On June 7, 1099, the Christian army reached the holy city, and finding it heavily fortified, began building three enormous siege towers.
On July 14, Godfrey’s men were the first to penetrate the defenses, and the Gate of Saint Stephen was opened.
The rest of the knights and soldiers then poured in, the city was captured, and tens of thousands of its occupants were slaughtered.
The crusaders had achieved their aims, and Jerusalem was in Christian hands. Christians had finally achieved what they had aimed in 1095.
But ever since 1099, Jerusalem was part of a war that went on for two centuries. The war between Christianity and Islam continued till 1271 after which there was no attempt to capture and liberate Jerusalem.
Between 1099 and 1271 Jerusalem tossed between Christians and Muslims. The first crusade was followed by the two other crusades, the second crusade of 1147–1149 and the third crusade of 1189–1192.
The Effects of Religions
The Crusades were a development popular religious life and feeling in Europe. The social effect of religious belief at the time was complex. Religion was moved by the tales of signs and wonders, and it attributed natural disasters to supernatural intervention. Life was a game of heaven and hell.
Israel-Palestine Conflict is a part of 5,000 years of conflict
Jerusalem still remains a disputed territory but is considered pure by Christians, Muslims and Judaism.
Turn the pages of history books to modern days and the territorial conflict of Israel-Palestine reveals itself as a conflict of modern-day but with roots in 458 BCE when the city of Jerusalem first fell in the hands of Islamic rulers.
According to the Quran, Jerusalem was also the last place the Prophet Muhammad visited before he ascended to the heavens and talked to God in the seventh century. Before that, he was flown from Mecca to Jerusalem overnight by a mythical creature.
Muhammad saw his mission as an extension of the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism and Christianity. Therefore, the first Qibla, or direction in which Muslims should pray, was Jerusalem (today, Muslims bow towards Mecca).
In addition, Islamic tradition predicts that Jerusalem will play an important role in the future, naming it as one of the cities where the end of the world will play out.
Even today, the idea at the center of the crusades, that religion has long been at the heart of the East-West divide, drives foreign policy from Washington to Islamabad.