The Crusades: A Brief Insight
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Crusading fervor gripped Europe for more than 200 years, creating one of the most extraordinary episodes in world history. But were the Crusades the first steps in European colonialism, an attempt at ethnic cleansing, a manifestation of religious zeal—or all three? Bringing together issues of colonialism, cultural exchange, and economic exploitation, scholar Christopher Tyerman challenges our assumptions about the Crusades and encourages us to re-evaluate the relationship between past and present.
The Thirteenth Century After 1229, eastern crusades progressed from the pragmatic to the optimistic to the desperate. Truces with feuding Muslim neighbors continued to sustain Frankish Outremer until the accession to power in Egypt of the militant Mamluk sultans, members of a professional caste of Turkish slave warriors, who replaced the heirs of Saladin in the 1250s. The Franks’ alliance with the Mongols who invaded Syria in the late 1250s, followed by the Mongols’ defeat by the Mamluks
disintegrated through disease, fatigue, and a superior enemy. Louis himself, suffering badly from dysentery, was among those captured, being released in return for Damietta and a massive ransom. Stunned by what he saw as God’s chastisement, Louis remained in the Holy Land until 1254 bolstering defenses (those at Caesarea can still be seen) and shoring up Outremer’s diplomatic relations with its neighbors. Yet while securing his reputation for piety, Louis’s stay did nothing to reverse the verdict
past. Despite, or perhaps because of, its lack of context, it remains the indelible image of crusading in popular culture, shared even by the sculptors of the late President Assad of Syria. Iconography is never innocent. Assad’s Damascus Saladin is defeating the Christians at their own imperialist game as surely as the Ladybird’s Saladin and Richard I are playing out some nineteenth-century cultural minuet. Polemicists and politicians know—or should know—that to invoke the Crusades is to stir
hard to find. The twin themes of judgment on past violence and fascination with its causes have ensured the survival of the Crusades as more than an inert subject for antiquarians. Since Pope Urban II (1088–99) in 1095 answered a call for military help from the Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus (1081–1118), by summoning a vast army to fight in the name of God to liberate eastern Christianity and recover the Holy City of Jerusalem, there have been few periods when the consequences of this act
the Crusades had entered the mythic memory of Christian Europe. From the First Crusade, the wars of the cross had been sustained, developed, and refined by concurrent description and interpretation, popular and academic. By the fifteenth century, appreciation of what passed for crusade history underpinned all serious discussion of future projects. Provoked by immediate political concerns, such studies tended to polemic and self-interest, blind to the distinction between legend and evidence. From