Dictionary and Thesaurus
Map of the Mediterranean World in 1092
1. The crusading movement was a significant event in the history
of medieval Europe. They opened an era in which Western Europe
came into direct contact with the great trade routes that united
the civilizations of Eurasia For the first time since the fall of
the Roman empire, western Europe was not isolated, but a part of
a greater world. Many things flowed along these trade routes.
Some were good, such as paper, the compass, medicines and spices,
new crops and advances in mathematics. Some were not so good,
such as leprosy, gunpowder, and bubonic plague.
Like most great events, there were many factors, some immediate
and apparent, some basic and apparent, and some in between that
went together to cause the people of western Europe to seek to
conquest and hold the lands of the Eastern Mediterranean.
A. Basic Causes
1. European society had survived the raids of the Magyars,
Vikings, and Saracens, and its economy and society were
recovering quickly. There was a new spirit of adventure apparent
in the art, literature, an actions of the western Europeans. This
was manifested at least partly in an increased popularity of
pilgrimages -- journeys to visit distant holy places to
worship there and view the relics of the saints. This was a
religious activity, but the many of the pilgrims clearly enjoyed
themselves like tourists in any age.
2. Europe was already in a period of expansion, and its capacity
for war and conquest had grown during the years of fending off
raiders from all direction. Most importantly from the standpoint
of the crusades, the Italian city states had developed navies of
merchant/fighting vessels that had seized control of the
Mediterranean. They had reconquered Sicily and southern Italy
from the Muslims, and there was a general sense that, like the
Vikings and Magyars, the force of the Muslims was spent and that
the way eastward lay open.
3. The spirit of religious reform that had led to the
Investiture Controversy had been accompanied by an
increase in popular spirituality. People were no longer to accept
their religion passively; many wanted to participate actively and
to do something positive in honor of their god.
B. Intermediate Causes
Despite their growth, European society and economy were in a
state of transition, and were unstable.
1. The aristocracy found themselves at relative peace, and were
losing the importance they had enjoyed when they stood between
Europe and its attackers. Their numbers were growing because
there were no longer the losses in battle they had once
sustained. They needed more land with which to endow their
children and were beginning to fight with each other over the
land that was available to them.
2. The kings were now working to reverse the decentralization
that had been characteristic of the feudal age. They, and many
who now looked to them for protection and leadership, wanted to
reduce the privileges enjoyed by the aristocracy and transfer
that power to the central governments of the kingdoms, and they
wanted to ends the civil wars caused by the aristocracy and
establish a greater measure of law and order.
3. The Church had split into eastern and western organizations in
1054, and the pope's wanted somehow to heal that split. They were
involved in the Investiture Controversy and were looking for
allies, such as the still-prestigious eastern Roman emperor.
4. Churchmen generally recognized the new spirituality of the age
and wished that there were some way that the Church could build
upon this and assume the moral leadership of Europe and the
5. The middle classes were now aware of the profits of the
eastern trade, and were searching for some way to bypass the
middlemen of the eastern empire and to trade directly with the
Muslims. They knew that they could become rich by cutting out the
Byzantines and taking for themselves the profits that the
Byzantine merchants had been making on trade with them.
6. The economic system was in a state of transition, with some
districts specializing in some "industrial" crops to the point
that they did not raise enough grain to feed themselves, and were
doing so before the transportation and internal trading system
had advanced enough to distribute consumer goods efficiently. So
there were frequent local famines. At the same time, agriculture
was improving so greatly in productivity that many people no
longer had work. The peasants needed more food and more land to
cultivate. In 1095, a famine and epidemic in northern France and
the Lowlands was causing widespread misery and the lower classes
were some miracle to deliver them.
7. Pilgrims returning from the Holy Land were bring home
stories of the atrocities being committed by the Seljuk
Turks, masters of the Levant, against pilgrims, and of
the way in which they were desecrating the places holy to
Christians. This caused great outrage, in part because the
average western European was better acquainted with the Bible
lands than any place other than their own villages and towns.
The Holy Land was the Christians "other home."
C. Immediate Causes
Since their victory at the Battle of Manzikert (1071), the
Seljuk Turks had been pressing towards Constantinople and were
now actually within sight of the city.
Alexius Comnenus, the eastern emperor, needed
reinforcement. A couple of years previously, he had seen a group
of western knights under the command of Count Robert of Flanders
and returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He had been
impressed by their fighting ability and decided to try to hire
about 1200 such warriors. he sent his request, and the reasons
for it, to Pope Urban II.
Urban was pleased, since the Holy Roman Emperor had set up a
rival "pope" as a maneuver in the Investiture Controversy, but
the eastern emperor had asked for help from him. He wanted to
help, so, after a council held at Aurillac in France, he gave an
impassioned speech to the laymen who had come to hear him. He
said little about helping Alexius -- since the westerners did not
like the Byzantines all that much -- and concentrated on the
mission to free the Holy Land. He promised them the Church's
blessing, the aid of god, and the certainly of being taking
immediately into heaven for those who fell in the attempt.
The crowd was swept up in the call, and the cry of Deus
vult! ("Gods wills it!") spread far and wide. Almost all
classes and nationalities of Europeans responded in a movement
far greater and more varied than Urban may have expected. It is
unlikely that anyone realized how well this call suited the needs
and predisposition of the Europeans of the time.
Against all odds, the first armed pilgrimage to the Holy
Land was successful, and the Christians captured Jerusalem in
1100. They benefited from the disunity among the Muslims and set
up the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Although it was only
ninety years before the Muslims had reorganized and taken back
most of what they had lost, the effect of the crusaders' success
A heightened sense of confidence animated the Europeans and, with
new influences from the East, culture and intellectual life
flourished. Western Europe, so some historians hold, came of age.