What happened during the Crusades? What were the Crusades? This time is one of the most misunderstood periods of Western history. From 1095 to 1291, successive waves of Christian knights and royals, called to action by the Catholic Church, quested to the Holy Land in an effort to capture (or re-capture) it from Muslim armies.
But facts about the Crusades are much more complicated than that. The Crusades weren't just one movement, but dozens, led by hundreds of knights, kings, and dukes, and not always bent on capturing Jerusalem. They tried to free Jerusalem, but also claimed a number of ancient cities, destroying priceless artifacts and culture.
The history of the Crusades is complicated, but also full of interesting information. Here are some of the most fascinating Crusades facts about this difficult period.
In 1095, Seljuk Turks had such a tight grip on Jerusalem that Christians were barred from entering. When the Turks threatened to invade the Byzantine Empire, Emperor Alexius I appealed to Pope Urban II for military assistance. Urban II promptly called the Council of Clermont in November 1095, ending it with a rousing speech. In front of hundreds of clerics and nobles, Urban denounced Islam, excoriated its anti-Christian acts (most of which likely didn't happen), and called on the rich and poor to unite in a religious war against them. With a battle cry of "God wills it!" the Crusades were born.
Knights of the Middle Ages operated under a complex series of religious rules for combat, instituted to control what was perceived as an almost unquenchable lust for violence and conquest. Under the Peace of God, church property was off limits for destruction, as were women, children, the elderly, and other non-combatants.
The Truce of God, added to the Peace of God in the 11th century, limited the days that combat could be initiated (Lent, Advent, Fridays, and Saturdays were off limits), ultimately making only 80 days available for fighting. The Peace of God and Truce of God are generally seen as failures, but they did help re-establish order in conflict-ravaged western Europe and were a critical precursor to the Crusades.
Urban II's call to arms was a huge success. Tens of thousands of people attempted to join the growing Crusader armies, but most were peasants with no combat training. The exact numbers are unknown, but it's generally agreed upon that about 35,000 soldiers under the command of four different princes left Europe for the Byzantine capital Constantinople in August 1096.
After that, they crossed into Asia Minor, laid siege to several major cities, including Nicaea and Antioch, then finally reached Jerusalem in 1099. Only a third of the initial 35,000 strong force was left, forcing an attack on multiple sides of the walled city. Jerusalem was taken when the defenders abandoned the walls, and the Crusaders entered the city. They took the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, established the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and slaughtered most of the remaining Muslim and Jewish defenders. The First Crusade had been a stunning success — if you were European and didn't mind mass slayings.
Before the First Crusade, launched in 1096, there was what's known as the People's Crusade. An army of peasants, priests, minor knights, women, children, and monks gathered to march on Jerusalem, led by a charismatic monk named Peter the Hermit. The untrained rabble marched south, slaying a number of Jews along the way, until having two crushing defeats laid on it by the Seljuk Turks. At the Battle of Civetot, almost the entire force of Peter the Hermit was wiped out, and only a few thousand made it back to Constantinople, never having gotten close to Jerusalem.