The Religious Crusades Essay

3310 words - 13 pages

The Crusades were first undertaken in 1096 and ended in the late 13th century.The term Crusade was originally applied solely to European efforts to retake from theMuslims the city of Jerusalem, which was sacred to Christians as the site of the crucifixionof Jesus Christ. It was later used to designate any military effort by Europeans againstnon-Christians.The Crusaders carved out feudal states in the Near East. Thus the Crusades are animportant early part of the story of European expansion and colonialism. They mark thefirst time Western Christendom undertook a military initiative far from home, the first timesignificant numbers left to carry their culture and religion abroad.In addition to the campaigns in the East, the Crusading movement includes otherwars against Muslims, pagans, and dissident Christians and the general expansion ofChristian Europe. In a broad sense the Crusades were an expression of militantChristianity and European expansion. They combined religious interests with secular andmilitary enterprises. Christians learned to live in different cultures, which they learned andabsorbed; they also imposed something of their own characteristics on these cultures. TheCrusades strongly affected the imagination and aspirations of people at the time, and tothis day they are among the most famous portions of medieval history.After the death of Charlemagne, king of the Franks, in 814 and the collapse of hisempire, Christian Europe was under attack and on the defensive. Magyars, nomadicpeople from Asia, pillaged eastern and central Europe until the 10th century. Beginningabout 800, several centuries of Viking raids disrupted life in northern Europe and eventhreatened Mediterranean cities. But the greatest threat came from the forces of Islam,militant and victorious in the centuries following the death of Muhammad in 632. By the8th century, Islamic forces had conquered North Africa, the eastern shores of theMediterranean, and most of Spain. Islamic armies established bases in Italy, greatlyreduced the size and power of the Byzantine Empire and besieged its capital,Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire was barely able to hold off the enemy. Islam posedthe threat of a rival culture and religion, which neither the Vikings nor the Magyars haddone.In the 11th century the balance of power began to swing toward the West. Thechurch became more centralized and stronger from a reform movement to end the practicewhereby kings installed important clergy, such as bishops, in office. Thus for the first timein many years, the popes were able to effectively unite European popular support behindthem, a factor that contributed greatly to the popular appeal of the first Crusades.Furthermore, Europe's population was growing, its urban life was beginning torevive, and both long distance and local trade were gradually increasing. European humanand economic resources could now support new enterprises on the scale of the Crusades.A growing population and more surplus...

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