In the 11th century Medieval Europe launched a series of military campaigns called the Crusades, wars against the Muslims in the Middle East and Holy Land. Christians waged these so-called Holy Wars in response to the Pope’s plea to save Jerusalem, the holiest place for Christians, which was captured by the Muslims (Saracens) in 1076. The place was sacred to both the Christians and the Muslims, and the wars waged on for almost 200 years. While many would think that the Crusades were all about a fight for power and control between Saladin and Richard the Lionheart, or the influence of the red cross worn by the Knights Templar, there is a lot more to these religious wars than personalities and symbolism. Here are eight more facts you might not know about the Crusades.
- The First Crusade was the only successful one
The First Crusade lasted from 1095 to 1099 and, more than all the other Crusades, this was the only one that would be considered a success, mainly because the Crusaders were eventually able to recapture Jerusalem. It established a Latin kingdom in the region, which provided more lands to the members of the crusade. The subsequent crusades however, resulted in the loss of the Holy Land.
- Some Crusaders resorted to cannibalism
In the latter part of 1098, during the siege of Ma’aara, Raymond de Saint Gilles led an assault on the city, which is now part of modern day Syria. While they were successful in their fight to capture the city, it turned out that there were only a few resources to be found there. Meanwhile, the soldiers were getting hungry, so hungry in fact that several soldiers resorted to eating the flesh of their dead enemies.
- The Saracens called the Crusaders the Franks
Saracen was a common term used to denote Muslims. It was a term that was used in medieval Europe, but was initially used by Latins (Europeans) and Greeks to refer to people who lived in the desert near the former Roman province they called Arabia, to distinguish them from the Arabs. The Saracens in turn knew the Crusaders as Franks, the general term applied to the people from Central and Western Europe.
- Three knightly orders were created by the Crusades
During the Crusades, the Christian knights rose to fame. It also paved the way for the creation of three orders: Knights Templar, Teutonic Knights and Knights Hospitaller. The Kingdom of Jerusalem was occupied by the Knights Templar while the Kingdom of Antioch went to the Knights Hospitaller. The Teutonic Knights were from Germany and they were the ones that fought in the Slavic Crusades.
- The Knights Hospitaller continue to exist
The Knights Hospitaller have shifted to more charitable causes and continue to exist to this day, just like the Teutonic Order. Before the Crusades, the Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem ran a hospital in the Holy Land. They went back to their original purpose when the Crusades ended and are currently operating internationally, with medical institutions in Finland and Canada.
- Christians were not unified in their support for the Crusades
Christians dominated the members of the Crusades. However, the Orthodox Christians within the Byzantine Empire came under siege, as waves of crusaders arrived from western Europe and camped in the Byzantine Empire, before moving on to the Middle East. In reality, the Byzantines also considered allying with the Fatimid Egyptians and the Turks to take revenge against the Franks or the Crusaders.
- Byzantine Empire was sacked by the Crusaders
The third crusade focused on the battle between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, the leader of the Muslims. War between the Byzantine Empire and the Latin Crusaders was declared when their relations deteriorated late in the 12th century. After failing to recapture Jerusalem, the Fourth Crusade the Crusaders decided instead to sack Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. The city was almost completely destroyed in just three days.
- Women and children joined the Crusades
The Crusaders were often accompanied by a motley crew of hangers-on, including women, children and other family members. And of course, no self-respecting knight would travel without his entourage.