17) East & West Crusades


The Reconquista vs. Holy Land Crusades

The "Western" Reconquista
Crusaders would remain an invading/occupying force throughout the Palestine Crusades (1099-1292). However, the opposite was true of the Reconquista (781-1492) occurring in the Iberian Peninsula where Muslims were the occupying force. For centuries, the captured territories of what would be today's Spain and Portugal were known throughout the Muslim world as Al-Andaus.

The Reconquista was, as the name would imply, a re-conquest of Iberian territory by its native inhabitants, oftentimes with the help of neighboring Christian forces in Gaul (today's France). Pope Urban II’s later Crusade was to challenge Muslims in the Holy Land. The Reconquista began some three hundred years before the Pope's Council of Clermont.

Muslim Domination of Iberian Peninsula


In 711, Muslim Berbers began to invade the south of present-day Spain. The following year they defeated the Visigoth army lead by King Roderic at Guadalete. By 721, Muslim forces had crossed the Pyrenees Mountains at the north of the peninsula to expand past into Aquitaine of Gaul, where they were initially halted at the Battle of Toulouse. This was the first incursion between Muslims and Franks. The Frankish forces at Toulouse were under the command of Odo the Great, Duke of Aquitaine.

Charles (The Hammer) Martel
While dealing with barbarian Saxon invasions to the North, the Frankish Duke Prince Charles Martel, grandfather to Charlemagne, had the foresight to view Muslim expansion from the south as a far greater threat. Consequently, when Odo was eventually defeated in 732 defending Bordeaux, he turned to Charles, a regional enemy. After submission to become Charles' vassal, Charles was pragmatic enough to incorporate his former enemy's army into his own.

The Battle of Tours, of October of 732, would be the defining moment for Europe's resistance of Islam. So soundly did Charles defeat the large army of battle-hardened Umayyad invaders, he was hence given the cognomen of "Martel" or 'The Hammer'. Most historians agree, had Charles failed at Tours the whole of Europe would have been overrun by Islam. 18th century historian Edward Gibbon claimed, "Christendom was delivered by the genius and good fortune of one man, Charles Martel."The next 760 years would be spent driving the Muslim occupiers off the peninsula and back to Africa.

Siege of Acre

Palestine Crusade

The Middle East Crusades were the result of a letter from Byzantine Emperor Alexios to then Pope Urban II. Urban saw the Emperor's request as an opportunity to reduce if not rid Europe of its criminal and poor elements by sending to seek adventure in fortune in the East. He also used the opportunity to declare war on all non-Christians. Like WWII Nazis liquidating Europe's Jews would help fund the effort. In regards to the Muslims, Pope Urban II most likely felt the walls closing in on Christendom.

Aside from taking control of the city of Jerusalem, there was not great strategy to the Eastern Crusades. Forming some lasting union with Constantinople would have been the only way to establish a real lasting presence. Had the pope traveled himself or sent formal legates in response to the Emperor's request for help, some bond may have been formed. However, because of rivalries with the Crusader princes and the awkward arrival of the non-military Pauper's Crusade, any partnership was doomed from the outset.

As things panned out, the Crusaders were not interested in handing over Jerusalem to Alexios, so Alexios distanced Constantinople. The Crusaders were then forced to take a string of towns to act as a beachhead to support a move on Jerusalem. Consequently, the Crusaders spent 193 years just retaining a foothold, and the First Crusade's possession of Jerusalem, which fell in 1187, after just 88 years.

Muslim vs. Christian Occupation

Iberian Occupation

If we look back on the days of Mohammed, the early caliphates would storm into a new territory, convert or eradicate the polytheists, embrace Judaic monotheists (Christians and Jews) and then move on. Initially, Muslims invaders would leave behind a garrison or two of troops as an occupation force, but these too would move on once the conversion to Islam was complete.

Muslim Life in Iberia
Dating back to Muhammad's Constitution of Medina (622) Muslims occupiers expressed religious tolerance. They also improved economic and social living conditions for the natives. However, since the Prophet Mohammed, the level of tolerance had steadily declined. Jews and Christians were by the time of the Iberian invasion were considered non-believers or "Dhimmis". Nevertheless, the religions were still acknowledged as coming from the same sacred Judaic roots, which presented somewhat of religious conundrum.

The solution was that occupying Muslims would allow Jews and Christians to live, practice their faith and even maintain their businesses. However, they would also be required to pay a special tax, or 'Jizyah', to practice their particular flavor of monotheism (polytheism was prohibited). Harsh prison terms and even death while in slavery were the only alternatives. Muslims viewed the "Jizyah" as an ongoing incentive for non-Muslims to convert and embrace Islam. Conversion always remained an active ingredient to Muslim occupation.

Crest of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

Palestinian Occupation

By comparison, the Crusaders' rivals were fighting natives defending their home. However, unlike the Muslims, Christians expressed total religious intolerance. As the 18th century historian Sir Steven Runciman would write "...the Holy War was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God". Not only were the Crusaders lacking religious tolerance, little is recorded in the way of religious conversions. Once a siege had ended in victory, all non-Christians were expelled or killed. This was likely due to Crusaders being so quick to put occupants of a besieged city to the sword, Jerusalem being the prime example.

With few exceptions, crusading Christians would bother to learn little of Islamic beliefs. As Bernard Shaw would write in his 20th century play, Saint Joan"the followers of Mahomet profess great respect for Our Lord, and are more ready to forgive Saint Peter for being a fisherman than (Christians are) to forgive Mahomet for being a camel driver."

Moreover, through systematic slaughter of the locals, the occupying Crusaders also manage to rob Palestine of its businesses and any economic infrastructure they may have benefited from or redirected to their own cause.

Almoravid (1040-1147)_
Resulting Outcomes
In Iberia, the Muslim caliphates faced a similar challenge as the European Crusaders to the East. They were both invading forces that shared a subsequent need to maintain strong military presence. However, the Muslims (Umayyad Taifas and the later Almoravids) invading Iberia remained strategically close to their home base, which was just across the Strait of Gibraltar or 8.7 sea miles. By comparison, the initial Crusaders would depart from as far as Paris and be forced to transport men and materials a full 2,000 miles to Jerusalem. Moreover, most of that distance would be through enemy territory.

Subsequently, Muslim invaders were capable of controlling vast territories within Spain. Whereas, the Christians, after establishing the colony of Palestine, were faced with holding down and defending a strip of towns, without the knowledge or economy of local natives, surrounded by hostile territory. Moreover, because of the Crusaders' great distance from home, they would be left to defend their position with limited forces against increasingly overwhelming odds.

By contrast, with favorable proximity and logistics, the Muslim caliphates were able to retain a substantial foothold in Spain, one that would last close to eight centuries. Moreover, after having been in control for most of Spain during that period, they left behind a considerable number of conversions to Islam. The conversions of native Muslims and the subsequent Christian prejudices that followed would eventually become the seeds of the Spanish Inquisition.

Moorish Architecture in Spain

Differences between East and West Caliphates

The western Muslim caliphates were far more organized than their Muslim brethren to the east. Overall rule of the peninsula was hindered little during the transition between caliphates (Umayyad Taifas to Almoavids to Almohads). Tribes were more closely knit and they had no nearby competing caliphate ready to infringe upon their territory.

Conversely, the Seljuq Turks, including the Sultanate of Rum, had imperialistic aspirations. As a result, they were constantly challenging their southern rivals, the Fatimid Caliphate. When the Crusaders arrived, the southern Fatimids were too involved with Turks to focus on Palestine, which resided on the Mediterranean coast and was somewhat north of their central territories. Had this division between the caliphates not been in place during the Crusader's initial siege of Jerusalem, the outcome would have likely been far different.

Unlike the Reconquista, which was fought in Europe, the Eastern Crusades required continual recommitment. Through the centuries, one Pope after another would issue a papal bull to raise money, troops and supplies. What follows is a summary of the 9 Eastern Crusades called by various popes.

Summary of the Middle East Crusades (1-9)

Christian Kills Christian in 4th Crusade
  • 1) 1096-1099 First Crusade: Capture of towns of Palestine resulting in the final capture of Jerusalem. This was the only successful expedition of the entire Crusades. 
  • 2) 1147-1149 Second Crusade: A frivolous, failed invasion of Damascus that resulted in attrition of Crusader troops in Palestine and the eventual fall of Jerusalem.
  • 3) 1189-1192 Third Crusade: Poorly planned supply trains prohibited the likely re-capture of Jerusalem by Richard I of England. Acre was re-captured and remained the Crusaders' seat of power until its eventual fall. 
  • 4) 1195-1198 German (late Third) Crusade: A revival of an earlier German attempt to retake Jerusalem but settled for the wealthy cities of Sidon and Beirut instead. 
  • 5) 1202-1204 Fourth Crusade: A fiasco driven by an Italian Dodge and a German King to divert Crusade forces for personal gains in Byzantium. It resulted in Christians killing Christians and excommunication for all the participants. 
  • 6) 1212 Children's Crusade: A poorly document occurrence where youths and possibly some impoverished adults decided to peacefully convert Muslims of the Middle East to Christians. It ended in capture and their sale into slavery. Considered by some to be the source of the Pied Piper tale. 
  • 7) 1217-1221 Fifth Crusade: Resulted in the capture of a large number of Crusaders who were freed only after agreement to an eight-year truce. 
  • 8) 1228-1229 Sixth Crusade: A diplomatic expedition that resulted in majority control of Jerusalem for 15 years, alienating the Knights of Ibelin Castle who held a strategic position against Egyptian Fatimids. 
  • 9) 1248-1254 Seventh Crusade: Previous alliances became null when independent Khwarezmian tribesmen stormed and claimed Jerusalem. King Louis IX was captured and ransomed. 
  • 10) 1270-1271 Eight Crusade: Louis IX returns to dies with few results as the Mamluks drove most of the Crusaders from the Holy Land
  • 11) 1271-1272 Ninth Crusade: Prince Edward of England (future Edward I) had numerous victories but in the end were unable to capitalize on their victories because of overwhelming Muslim in the region.  

The Last Crusader (Painting)

End of Middle Eastern Crusades

The Crusaders' Middle Eastern occupation had lasted 192 years, occupation ended when the city of Acre fell in 1291. Bear in mind, the capture of Jerusalem (1099) had been the entire motivation for the Crusades and after only 88 years, it had fallen back into Muslim hands (1187). With the exception of the Fourth Crusade, all subsequent regional efforts were essentially aimed at its recapture.

Prince Edward of England, inspired by his uncle, Richard the Lionheart, launched his own Crusade to the Holy Land. Upon arrival in 1271, Edward came upon the now invading Mongol forces under Abaqa Khan. By 1300 most of the Middle East was under attack by Mongol forces. An urban myth had even developed about the Mongols presenting the Holy Land as a gift to Pope Boniface VIII. However, the Pope eventually leaned the Mongols had withdrawn and Mamluk Muslims had reoccupied Jerusalem.

End of the Reconquista

Having begun 388 years before the Crusades to the Holy Land, the battle to regain the Iberian Peninsula would slog on for another 220 years after the ninth crusade (lasting 781 years total), until the final surrender of the Emirate of Granada in 1492 to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Columbus's discovery of the New World would exactly correspond with Europe's attention turning from Jerusalem in the East to conquest and wealth in the newly discovered west.

Surrender of Granada in 1492 (by F. Padilla)
Surrender of Granada in 1492 (by F. Padilla)

It seems likely that a serious partnership between Rome and Constantinople would have succeeded where an exclusively European colonization of the Middle East failed. It certainly would have done more to answer Emperor Alexios' initial request for help maintaining his borders. However, Rome, the Latin Church and the western territories had drifted altogether too far from the eastern empire. Relations between the two Christian factions would only worsen over the period of Palestinian occupation. Once the Europeans would pull up stakes a vacuum would be created that would only strengthen Muslim presence in the region and further weaken Constantinople's position until it too would fall to permanent Muslim domination in 1453. One has to wonder if Constantinople might have better survived had Alexios not requested help from Pope Urban II.

Averroes the Muslim Philosopher
The Muslims would leave behind a rich Moorish culture throughout the Iberian Peninsula. However, Christian-rule would not hold to the accords the Treaty of Granada, first signed in 1491. As early as 1493, just one year after full surrender, Castile started to revoke many of the agreed upon privileges allowed non-Christians. This was followed by sporadic uprisings and organized rebellions. By 1568 most "Moriscos" (converted Christians) were expelled from the region.

Click here for 18) End of Darkness

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