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The Crusades were a series of religious wars, blessed by the Pope and the Catholic Church with the main goal of restoring Christian access to the holy places in and near Jerusalem. The Crusades were originally launched in response to a call from the leaders of the Byzantine Empire for help to fight Muslim Seljuk Turks expansion into Anatolia; these Turks had cut off access to Jerusalem.
The crusaders comprised military units from all over western Europe, and were not under unified command. The main series of Crusades occurred between 1095 and 1291; historians have given them numbers, later unnumbered crusades were also taken up for a variety of reasons. The Crusades were fought by Roman Catholics primarily against Muslims. After some early successes, the later crusades failed and the crusaders were defeated and forced to return home.
The First Crusade (1096–1099) was a military expedition by Western Christianity to regain the Holy Lands taken in the Muslim conquest of the Levant, ultimately resulting in the recapture of Jerusalem. It was launched on 27 November 1095 by Pope Urban II with the primary goal of responding to an appeal from Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, who requested that western volunteers come to his aid and help to repel the invading Seljuq Turks from Anatolia. An additional goal soon became the principal objective—the Christian reconquest of the sacred city of Jerusalem and the Holy Land and the freeing of the Eastern Christians from Islamic rule.
The First Crusade succeeded in establishing the "crusader states" of Edessa, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Tripoli in Palestine and Syria (as well as allies along the Crusaders' route, such as the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia).
The Second Crusade (1145–1149) was the second major crusade launched from Europe. The Second Crusade was started in response to the fall of the County of Edessa the previous year to the forces of Zengi. The county had been founded during the First Crusade (1096–1099) by Baldwin of Boulogne in 1098. While it was the first Crusader state to be founded, it was also the first to fall.
After crossing Byzantine territory into Anatolia, both armies were separately defeated by the Seljuq Turks. The crusade in the east was a failure for the crusaders and a great victory for the Muslims. It would ultimately have a key influence on the fall of Jerusalem and give rise to the Third Crusade at the end of the 12th century.
The Third Crusade (1189–1192), also known as the Kings' Crusade, was an attempt by European leaders to reconquer the Holy Land from Saladin. It was largely successful, but fell short of its ultimate goal—the reconquest of Jerusalem.
Spurred by religious zeal, Henry II of England and Philip II of France ended their conflict with each other to lead a new crusade (although Henry's death in 1189 put the English contingent under the command of Richard Lionheart instead). The elderly Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa responded to the call to arms, and led a massive army across Anatolia, but drowned before reaching the Holy Land. Many of his discouraged troops left to go home.
Saladin failed to defeat Richard in any military engagements, and Richard secured several more key coastal cities. Richard finalized a treaty with Saladin by which Jerusalem would remain under Muslim control, but which also allowed unarmed Christian pilgrims and merchants to visit the city. The successes of the Third Crusade would allow the Crusaders to maintain a considerable kingdom based in Cyprus and the Syrian coast. However, its failure to recapture Jerusalem would lead to the call for a Fourth Crusade six years later.
The Sixth Crusade started in 1228 as an attempt to regain Jerusalem. It began seven years after the failure of the Fifth Crusade. It involved very little actual fighting. The diplomatic maneuvering of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II resulted in the Kingdom of Jerusalem regaining control of Jerusalem and other areas for fifteen years.
The Ninth Crusade, which is sometimes grouped with the Eighth Crusade, is commonly considered to be the last major medieval Crusade to the Holy Land. It took place in 1271–1272.
Louis IX of France's failure to capture Tunis in the Eighth Crusade led Prince Edward of England to sail to Acre in what is known as the Ninth Crusade. It is arguable that the Crusading spirit was nearly "extinct," by this period as well. It also foreshadowed the imminent collapse of the last remaining crusader strongholds along the Mediterranean coast.
Catholic military orders appeared following the First Crusade in response to the Islamic conquest of the former Byzantine Christian Holy Land. The foundation of the Templars in 1118 provided the first in a series of tightly organized military forces which protected the Christian lands in Outremer, as well as fighting invading Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula as well as Muslim invaders and pagan tribes in Eastern Europe.
The Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem is a German medieval military order. It was formed to aid Christians on their pilgrimages to the Holy Land and to establish hospitals. The military membership was always small, with volunteers and mercenaries augmenting the force as needed.
Formed at the end of the 12th century in Acre, in the Levant, the medieval Order played an important role in Outremer, controlling the port tolls of Acre.
The most important of all the military orders, both for the extent of its area and for its duration. The Hospitallers arose because of the work of an Amalfitan hospital located in the Muristan district of Jerusalem, founded around 1023 to provide care for poor, sick or injured pilgrims to the Holy Land. After the Western Christian conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, the organisation became a religious and military order under its own charter, and was charged with the care and defence of the Holy Land.
The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon were among the most famous of the Western Christian military orders. The organization existed for nearly two centuries during the Middle Ages.
Officially endorsed by the Catholic Church around 1129, the Order became a favored charity throughout Christendom, and grew rapidly in membership and power. Templar knights, in their distinctive white mantles with a red cross, were among the most skilled fighting units of the Crusades. Non-combatant members of the Order managed a large economic infrastructure throughout Christendom, innovating financial techniques that were an early form of banking and building fortifications across Europe and the Holy Land.
The Templars' existence was tied closely to the Crusades; when the Holy Land was lost, support for the Order faded.
Women at home were intricately connected whether aware of it or not in the recruitment of crusading men. Their encouragement and familial ties would present men friendly connections which made the prospect of taking the cross more appealing for those risking their lives. Arguably the most significant role that women played in the West during the crusades was their preservation of the home.
While most women were there to help and care for the crusading men by bringing them water or raising their spirits by offering emotional support, there were women who had specific tasks which defined their feminine characteristics like the washerwoman.
The most controversial role that women had in the crusades was of course the role which threatened their femininity, actual militancy.
The accounts of women fighting come mostly from Muslim historians whose aim was to portray Christian women as barbaric and ungodly because of their acts of killing. The contrasting view from Christian accounts portray women fighting only in emergency situations for the preservation of the camps and their own lives. In these cases women are seen as more feminine while behaving like ‘proper women’.
Virtually all crusade writings came from men, and women would have been interpreted subjectively no matter what roles they played.