The Crusades were a series of confusing religious wars that took place from roughly the 11th century to the 15th century. It's all pretty complicated - and controversial - but it breaks down like this: Christians in the West waged a series of wars against non-Christians in the East for a variety of reasons: to combat heresy, to defend themselves, to capture Jerusalem, to defend other Christians, and for political advantage, just to name a few. How the Crusades changed history is another complicated matter altogether.
The ways the Crusades shaped the modern world are numerous, and despite the Crusades being a hopelessly violent and brutal affair, they're often related to the ways that West and East worked together (or at least learned from each other). Warring civilizations, it turns out, can actually foment progress as well as destruction: it just takes a long, long time. Read on for more facts about how the Crusades changed the world forever.
Historians say that banking was "forgotten" after the fall of the Roman Empire, and it took the Crusades to "reinvent" it. Why? The need to move large sums of money for trading purposes - as well as "supplies, equipment, allies, ransoms, etc." needed for the cause - led to the use of so-called "bills of exchange," which were kind of like modern-day checks. These bills of exchange may have been used in an earlier century, but the earliest recorded use is during the Crusades in 1156 in Genoa, Italy.
As historian David Byrne (not musician David Byrne) notes, "Conquest brings disparate civilizations together." Prior to the Crusades, the Muslim empire learned a lot from the Greco-Roman cultures they encountered after becoming a dominant force in the Middle East, Spain, and North Africa. Centuries later, the Crusaders also learned a lot from the Arabic cultures they encountered, including a numbering system that ultimately proved superior. Thanks to the increased travel in North Africa during the Crusades, Byrne notes, the Italian mathematician Fibonacci wrote Liber Abaci, leading the West to adopt the Arabic-Hindu numbering system instead of Roman numerals.
Spices were common in ancient Rome, but by the time of the Crusades, they "dropped out of use in the West," according to Dana Carleton Munro. The Crusaders thus pillaged spices on their journey, including "more than sixteen thousand pounds of pepper" at the capture of Caesarea in 1101. Spices quickly came into regular use in the West once the Crusades were underway. Munro writes that "no banquet was complete without spiced dishes and wine" in the 12th century.
The Crusades introduced the West to fine cloths such as muslin and silk, and also gave many an appreciation of exotic furs. Historian Dana Carleton Munro, for example, says that "camel's hair and the finer furs" were brought home by returning Crusaders. The "new tastes" acquired by the Crusaders also led to improvements in transportation to get such goods home. These new vessels reduced the cost of transportation "to a very great extent," bringing exotic goods - and "great profits" - to Italian cities on the trade routes.