|Fig.1: A sandbox next to the twirly
slide is worth fighting for.
Since the founding of Islam in the early 600s by the great prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), its word spread throughout the Arabian peninsula and nearby lands (with a little help from the sword). Many of these places had previously been dominated by Christianity, such as the Levant, North Africa, and even Spain, to which the followers of the cross didn't take too kindly. To make matters worse, Christians became split over silly things like what exactly was the "Holy Spirit," should people leaven their bread before using it as communion, was the Pope really the voice of God on Earth, and who stole the cookies from the cookie jar? This eventually created the East-West Schism between Orthodox Christians in the East and Catholic Christians in the West, with sad places like Croatia forever the monkey-in-the-middle. The Byzantine Empire ruled over most Orthodox lands, but their hold was slipping over the greased pig that is the Middle East. Alarms went off after losing the Battle of Manzikert to the Seljuq Turks in 1071, cutting Byzantine land in half (fig.2) and bringing the wonderful religion of Islam to even more followers. (See guys, I'm playing nice. So lay off the fatwa talk, will ya?)
|Fig.2: Blue denotes Byzantine territory before (left) and after (right) the Battle of Manzikert, with the Seljuqs Turks taking over most of modern-day Turkey. Maybe they should have thought of that before they named it Turkey!
|Fig.3: Contrary to this image, folks on the
People's Crusade didn't always stay in a
single-file line and use their inside voices.
Later in 1096, those real Crusaders were ready and raring to go. Despite their shared goals and annoying habit of invoking Christ's name for everything, the armies were not in the least united, and more resembled fraternities competing for campus supremacy during Greek Week. There were four major players here, leading their own armies who were more loyal to them than any lame philosophy of teamwork:
Raymond of Toulouse, a noble from southern France, had already fought Muslims in Spain, and was ready to bring home the prize for his hungry brothers from IΗΠ.
Hugh of Vermandois, brother of the king of France and just as much of a jerk, led ΑΣΣ, the frat everyone hates but is tolerated because they throw the best parties.
Godfrey of Bouillon, duke of German lands near Belgium, was deeply religious and longed to win back the Holy Land in the name of ΓΟΔ, a service fraternity.
Bohemond of Taranto, a Norman prince in southern Italy, was egged on by his ancestral Viking blood and love of the ΚΙΛ, which was kicked off campus long ago for being far too rowdy (even by Norman standards).
Each army left Western Europe separately and met up in Constantinople for a good old fashioned inter-fraternal kegger. Alexios, tried of these Catholic hijinks, locked the leaders up until they swore an oath stating that any lands captured by the Crusaders would be returned to the Byzantines, and that they also retrieve the furniture from off the roof (you know it's a good party when that happens). Many shuffled their feet with the oath, since these were the type of guys that never liked to be kept at their word ("Yeah baby, I'll totally call you!"). In the end, all four eventually swore allegiance to Alexios before moving on into Turkey, having a good laugh at the fact that Raymond had his fingers crossed the whole time. In the first fight against the Seljuq Turks at the Battle of Nicaea in June 1097, the city was taken after a month-long siege, but Byzantine troops were there to ensure it was promptly handed over before anything crazy happened. The Crusaders longed to head south to Jerusalem before the Byzantines cramped their style anymore.
|Fig.4: This illustrator certainly had the art of
Since Emperor Alexios refused to send troops to aid the Crusaders at Antioch, they decided that the oath they halfheartedly swore to return captured lands to the Byzantines was null-and-void, and that soon there would be a stinkbomb with Constantinople's name all over it (give it a couple more Crusades). After heated arguments and an epic airband competition between the Crusade leaders, Bohemond won the right to take city and re-established his brotherhood as rulers of the Principality of Antioch, one of the first Crusader states. With Bohemond staying behind and Hugh hightailing it back to the comforts of home, the Crusading force was effectively cut in half to 12,000 troops on the home stretch to their goal: Jerusalem. Raymond and Godfrey led their armies on nonetheless, reaching the holy city in June 1099. Little did the Crusaders know (nor did they really care) that a different group of Muslims ruled the area: the Fatimids from Egypt took over Jerusalem from the Turks the previous year. In a situation reminiscent to your old roommate's ex-girlfriend coming over and trashing your place in revenge, the Crusaders didn't distinguish which Muslims they were fighting, and began their attack of Jerusalem in earnest.
Instead of working together like good Christians, Raymond and Godfrey's forces made separate assaults on city that were easily repelled by the Fatimid defenders. This back-and-forth game was not nearly as effective or entertaining as the rivalry between Legolas and Gimli at Helm's Deep, and went on for a couple of weeks before yet another perfectly-timed divine intervention occurred. This time, a priest had a vision of the biblical Battle of Jericho, which he decided meant that the city would only be taken if the Crusaders fasted and marched barefoot around the city walls for three days (singing "Kumbaya" was optional but encouraged). They did so, with Muslims periodically looking over the walls and mumbling, "What's up with these crazy crackers?" But this routine, along with their new-found comradery, and gifts of siege engines from Italian merchants (do I even need to tell you which one of those was most important?), allowed Jerusalem to fall on July 15, 1099. Unfortunately, a massacre ensued soon after the city's capture, with the Crusaders killing not only Muslims, but the Jews who had lived under the Fatimids' policy of religious tolerance as well. Hmm, which team are we supposed to be rooting for here?
|Fig.5: What about that whole "Thou shalt not kill?" thing?
|Fig.6: The Crusader States: proudly
continuing the Middle Eastern tradition
of bickering with your neighbors since
But Europeans gained more than land and heaven's favor in their conquests. Islamic scholars had been renowned for their math skills for centuries, and happily tutored the Christians after school in the library. The writings and ideas of Ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato, who had been more revered and preserved by Muslims to this point, were rediscovered by Europeans and promptly claimed as their own ideas. Most importantly to the future of the world, the Crusaders acquired a taste for spices imported from India to the Middle East, which soon became all the rage in Europe. This need for garlic cheesy bread prompted an increase of maritime trade and exploration, leading to the discovery of a little place known as America. Without the Crusades, European colonization of the "New World" would have occurred much later or not at all, adding people like Pope Urban II and Byzantine Emperor Alexios to my all-time favorite game: "Six Degrees of Separation to the Forced Removal and Near-Irradiation of Native Americans." Play it with a stranger the next time you're waiting at the bus stop!
Until then, check out my history on the Second Crusade. C'mon, I know you're not sick of needless religious warfare yet!