T Nation

Misconceptions of the Crusades


So, I went to public school and I learned about the crusades extensively when it came to that time period in history class. I also love history and have spent a large quantity of time with my nose in history books.

What has really interested me was that recently I took a history class and a religion class (both liberal arts classes that I needed for general student studies) and neither talked about the Crusades, like nothing ever happened in that time period. The religion class had three sections with one section including Judaism and Christianity and the second section Islam. As well, a few times in everyday events the topic has come up. I have noticed that normal day-to-day people hold several large mistakes that they believe about the Crusades.

Even on this forum, so I decided to open a thread to this specific topic to discuss what you believe happened during the Crusades...History buffs commence! Just one thing...


1) Use a credible source.
2) Hate websites are not credible sources.
3) Be nice...we are friends at the end of the day.


I would say one of the more aggravating aspects of the historical misconceptions is when the Crusades and Inquisition get lumped together and then used to frame an argument of militancy in Christianity. There is almost three hundred years separating those events and very different circumstances.

To give an analogy, it would be like saying America has a history of aggression against other countries then using Vietnam and the War of Independence as examples of America attacking foreign countries who were not at war with us. While I disagree with the reasoning there are good arguments as to why we should not have been involved in Vietnam.

The war of Independence on the other hand was quite a legitimate cause. But to lump those two events together would be ridiculous because there is almost two hundred years between them and they were very different circumstances.

The Crusades were a response to several hundred years of Jihadist attacks.


Yup. They were pretty bad but there is a popular misconception that the Christians started it.


What misconceptions do most people hold about the Crusades before we start debating them? I went to school to major in history, concentrated in medieval history, and have read abundant sources on the subject. I'm not sure what others believe to be true or false about them. Let's pick one topic to start with like causes, outcomes, or something.


Okay...I'll bite. Heard this the other day...Pope Urban preached the Crusades to take over Muslim lands that they peacefully acquired.

[Side note: Most folks do not realise that the Crusades were pilgrimages to the Holy Lands.]


My perception was that Urban rallied support for the Crusades to aid Christians living in the East that had been attacked by invaders (Turks) and to help make passage to these holy lands safe. He may or may not have had dubious ulterior motives but no one really knows that.


Well, obviously the Muslim conquest was not peaceful. There are several battle names that suggest that. Jerusalem itself was conquered in 1076. Urban did call for the reconquest of Jerusalem and the East, but it's also true that many were making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. As a matter of fact they were covered by the Peace of God which played right into the entire Crusade motivations. Under the Peace of God, knighted noblemen were to protect certain members of society and of course the Church. This was the beginning of Christian Chivalry. So when Urban II gave his speech at Clermont, and it should be noted Urban had been an abbott at Cluny which helped lay down the Peace of God, he was calling on armed Christian soldiers to serve their duty to God. So it was both a military conquest by some and a peaceful journey by others.


I was under the misconception that there were two sides, neither of them innocent, and only declaring war on each other because of a tribal myth.

Neither side here is innocent, and it's pretty clear all you want to do in this thread is make Christianity out to be a shining bastion of light in the face of the barbaric redneck Islamic hordes. There is nothing glorious or holy about either sides actions, and the reasoning for the fighting itself was incredibly stupid.


No, actually we're just discussing the Crusades. Desire for land and wealth was one of the most driving motivations for the Crusades. At one point, Christian leaders actually sided with Muslim leaders like Saladin over other Christian leaders.


Rednecks = Southern union workers that wore red bandannas around their neck to mark themselves from the corporate guards that were hired by the corporations. Not Islamic.

And the Crusades (pilgrimages) were and are considered holy by the Catholic Church since they were reacting to attacks on Christian empires.

Another misconception, the Pope apologized for the Crusades.

And, yes there was evil done on both sides, however if taken into account those that were going for material wealth were asked not to go. Because it was mostly an individual choice to go on the pilgrimage there were straggler groups that went along, and they showed their motives. Robbing and killing and other evils against Jews, Christians, and non-combatants.


An interesting book by Thomas Asbridge suggested that Pope Urban's main motivation in inciting the crusades was to provide military support for the Orthdox Chruch/ Byzantine Empire who had lost large amounts of their territory to the various islamic nations in that region (I think it was the turks but I could be wrong,). The Byzantine Emperor at the time had made an appeal for military aid from the Europeans. But Urban wanted to use it as a way to try and close the rift that had existed between the Catholic and Orhtodox churches at that time.

If I recall correctly he suggested that most of the reports of Muslim cruelty to Christians was either greatly embellished or completely fabricated.

So I suppose that the first misconception would be that it started out as a religious war, when in fact it did not, it became that later when the Pope made it one as a recruiting tactic.

I agree with BBiere that the main motivation was land and wealth, most of the crusaders never made it to Jerusalem because they wanted to occupy cities that they had captured e.g. Bohemund stopping in Antioch.

I think the crusades are a fascinating piece of history, very barbaric and idiotic, but interesting nonetheless.


i will propose another perspective :

the Crusades were just the last phase of the barbarian invasions, continued in the southern and eastern part of the Roman Empire.

if we refuse to take a side, what we see is germanic barbarians fighting against arabic barbarians to conquer what remained of the Roman Empire.

it was not a battle of Good against Evil. not even a battle of the West against the East.
just barbarians, half civilized by monotheism, doing their job.

in other words : periphery invading the center.
young blood spilled on old stones

i often wonder what would have happen if, instead of defending our Levantine States in the Holy Land and sacking Constantinople, we had really protected the Silk Road against the Turks.

a good synopsis for an uchrony.


Well, I'm not saying that the only reason for the Crusades was wealth and want. There was definitely a religious fervor that existed around the time. The year 1000 saw the first millenial scare which flowed into 1033 (1000 years after Christ's death). The idea was that the anti-Christ would arise from Jerusalem, but a noble Christian king would lay down his crown in the Holy City and lead to the glorious return of Christ. The Crusades began only 60 some years later. I'm sure there was still part of that sentiment left.


I did two years of Crusade Studies from the age of 16 to 18. I also wrote my Honours dissertation on the Crusades (primarily reasons why it was launched)

Right, here is my take on it.

There are several theories put forth, some more believable than the others;

1) Wealth

This one doesn't carry too much weight as it cost a proverbial arm and a leg to go on crusade and most nobles that went had to borrow money to be able to afford to go.

2) French Proto Imperialism

This interpretation of events comes from historians of the 19th century who, living in an age of colonialism, settled on this being the main drive behind the crusades (without ever trying to prove it).

3) Channeling violence out of Europe

The average knight was trained from an early age to hurt, maim, and kill. The only problem was that they were doing it to each other. The crusades presented an opportunity to put all that training and violence to a better use.

4) Faith and religious zeal

People that went on crusade really did believe that by doing so they would earn "points" that would enable them to atone for sins and get into heaven. The Peasants crusade and the The Childrens crusade are good examples of this kind of belief.

5) To reclaim the Holy Lands

Of course this was part of it but you also need to consider that the timing doesnt exactly match up. Pope Urban launched the first crusade in 1095. Jerusalem had not been under Christian control for more than 400 years when the first crusade was launched.

6) Unification of the Western and Eastern Church

Pope Urban wanted to be the man that rejoined the two churches, and he saw the crusades as the best way to do that.

The 6th idea has been growing in popularity of late and I tend to side with that and the 4th reason. Urban was an articulate and savvy pope. His call to Crusade apparently had people tearing their clothes into strips so that they could take the cross there and then. The average person, the people with new idea of any paple machinations, went on crusade because of faith. Going on crusade was about as horrific an undertaking as can ever be imagined and nobody would subject themselves to that without some kind of higher motivation.

If you want to look at first hand or earlier written accounts of the crusade, you need to check where the source material comes from. The three we looked at most in school were the Gesta Francorum (written by a crusader, the Alexiad (written by Anna Comnena, and the writings of Ibn al Athir (a contemporary of Saladin's). The Gesta Francorum gives great insight into the day to day runnings of the crusade from the position of someone not too high up. The Alexiad should be taken with a big pinch of salt. Anna Comnena, the daughter of Emperor Alexius hated the crusaders and her view is decidedly one sided. I don't remember too much about Ibn Al Athir to be honest.

As for the atrocities, they were commited by both sides. The Crusader however were particularly brutal. This brutality must be looked at within the context of when it tool place. You are dealing with people who are thousands of miles from home, starving, sick, scared, outnumbered, and never knowing what the next day held. The brutality they exercised upon taking Jerusalem was just that, brutal. But it was also the release of months or years of fear, anger, and frustration which had built up on the journey from the west to the east. But as I said, the crusaders, the knights and retainers, had one purpose in life, to fight. Expecting them to not to have been brutal is just unrealistic. Just take a look at the pogroms they launched against the Jews of Europe while on their way to the East. Just look at what they did to Constantinople during the 4th Crusade. You can't expect well trained, violent, motivated, faith-filled warrior to have done anything less.


Well put. I think you have the basic motivations of the Crusades down, but to rank them would depend from whose view point you take. From the Church's view point, religious beliefs and the desire to reunite East and West was probably the top two. For the noblemen, land and wealth probably played a much greater role. For the peasants, religious beliefs were most likely the only reason.


Well said by both of you


It should be remembered that the Islamic empire at the time, which was primarilly concerned with attacking Byzantine land and playing a piracy game in the Meditteranean, had found itself conquered by its own periphery in the Turks. Further, the Crusades could not have been inherently anti muslim, for there were powerful muslim empires in Andalusi (Spain).

The pogroms against the Jews were perhaps the most heinous of the Crusaders actions, while the impetus for the attack can be blamed on dick cheney. Europe was still highly fragmented, and the Crusades served to sever the archaic eastern Roman empire from the revitalized West (in my view the Western Roman Empire will remain as long as the Pope exists. Now its called the EU.)

I think after the Crusades began, any pretense of uniting the church would have been abandoned as the insurmountability of the endevour became obvious. Rome couldn't conquer the east, just like Germany can't conquer Russia. The eastern church was untenable due to the isolated nature of its kingdom. Constantinople was purely a large city state


Thank you and thank you :slightly_smiling:

I agree with your points about the different motivations applying to different people but I do disagree with your point about money/land being the motivation for the noblemen. Going on Crusade was ridiculously expensive. There are ledgers of accounts from the church at the time documenting money lent to lesser noblemen and how much the chrch paid to buy land etc off them. Only the very richest of men could go without enduring financial hardship. By the end of the crusade (talking about the first crusade here) a lot of kights were riding into battle on donkeys, wearing broken armour. Some people did mak out like bandits but very few of them.

I think that faith and religious zeal fits both the peasantry and the nobles alike as reasons to go on crusade. The average peasant was bombarded with sermons about the fiery pits of hell and the need to atone. They were also told stories about the hardships and tortures their brothers in the east were facing at the hands of the turks (how true these stories were is another matter altogether). The knights received the same stories but they also had the problem of having to atone for all the violence they ahd commited in their lives. Suddenly the church tells them that crusading can make up for that and put you on the path to heaven. In Europe at the time, the Peace of God movement punished them spiritually for killing. Now they had the chance to do what they were trained to do AND better their chances of getting into heaven. The more muslims you killed, the better chance you had of avoiding hell.


I have heard many things about the inquisition stated by some Christians that i could not find any verifiable facts to back up one of which states that millions of Christians were put to death because they weren't catholic. I am pretty sure the death figures and the reason why they happened for both the crusades and the inquisition are significant misconceptions to this day and so far only know about the Spanish inquisition.


How much land did the church acquire?