The crusades was the churches response to the Muslim expansion, which
had spread along North Africa and up to the eastern and western fringes of the
Mediterranean world. The Crusades began in 1096 and ended in 1291 (some 200
years) with 8 major crusades and some minor ones.
Pop Urban II initiated them with the main intention of protecting Christianity and
recapturing Religious Holy Sites in Jerusalem from the control of the Muslim “infidels”.
However, there were mixed motives behind the crusades. The kings and feudal lords
saw crusading as a means for obtaining new lands and riches and the clergy found a
new dumping ground for troublemakers. Lastly, the Church would give remission of
penance for past sins and postponements of debts.
Before the crusades, the political structure was feudalistic and ruled by lords. The
average peasant had a small parcel of land, a small home with a thatched roof and dirt
floor, with major obligations to serve his lord in work and produce. Only about 10
percent of the people lived in towns.
The economy was mainly dependant on the agriculture which was in a very poor
state at best. Most of the European Continent was wilderness and what little farmland
existed was uncultivated and overcrowded. Entire royal courts moved from one manor
to another in their realm as the provisions ran out.
The manor on which peasants lived was designed to be self sufficient with no strong
central government; it provided a measure of security and justice and there was little
contact with the outside world. There was no currency and goods were exchanged
mainly by barter.
In contrast to feudal Europe; stood the eastern portion of the Roman Empire with its
center in Constantinople a wealthy trading city. It had access to the luxury items of the
far east as well as the riches of the Hellenic and Islamic culture. They had a wealth of
scholars in many disciplines astronomy, mathematics, medicine, poets and writers who
created literature equal to anything their European counterparts had done. Facts are
that reading and writing was scarce even among the nobles and some were unlettered
as their lowest serfs. Most nobles had a prelate at there side to attend to clerical duties.
The Crusades brought many changes to the political, economical and social
structure of Europe. Feudalism became weaker. The kings who led the crusades got
more power and began to form countries and impose taxes. People gave their loyalty to
kings in exchange for protection. As long as the king promised to keep the new trade
routes open and safe;...