To Arab historians, the Crusaders were a minor irritant, their invasion one more barbarian incursion, not nearly as serious a threat as the Mongols were to prove in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
The First Crusade began in 1095 after the Byzantines – threatened by Seljuk power- appealed to Pope Urban II for military aid. Pope Urban, hoping to divert the Christian kings and princes from their struggles with each other, and perhaps also seeing an opportunity to reunite the Eastern and Western churches, called for a “Truce of God” among the rulers of Europe and urged them to take the Holy Land from the Muslims.
Photo: The most impossing of the many fortresses built by the crusaders, the elegant krak des Chevailers in Syria held out against the Muslims for over a century and a half.
Considered dispassionately, the venture was impossible. The volunteers – a mixed assemblage of kings, nobles, mercenaries, and adventurers – had to cross thousands of miles of unfamiliar and hostile country and conquer lands of whose strength they had no conception. Yet so great was their fervor that in 1099 they took Jerusalem, establishing along the way principalities in Antioch, Edessa, and Tripoli. Although unable to fend off the Crusaders at first – even offering the Crusaders access to Jerusalem if they would come as pilgrims rather than invaders – the Muslims eventually began to mount effective counterattacks. They recaptured Aleppo and besieged Edessa, thus bringing on the unsuccessful Second Crusade.
In the meantime the Crusaders – or Franks, the Arabs called them – had extended their reach to the borders of Egypt, where the Fatimids had fallen after two hundred years. There they faced a young man called Salah al-Din (Saladin) who had founded still another new dynasty, the Ayyubids, and who was destined to blunt the thrust of the Crusaders’ attack. In 1187 Saladin counterattacked, eventually recapturing Jerusalem. The Europeans mounted a series of further crusading expeditions against the Muslims over the next hundred years or so, but the Crusaders never again recovered the initiative. Confined to the coast, they ruled small areas until their final defeat at the hands of the Egyptian Mamluks at the end of the thirteenth century.
Photo: The Crusader castle at Sidon in Lebanon was abandoned after the final defeat of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Although the Crusades achieved no lasting results in terms of military conquest, they were important in the development of trade, and their long-range effects on Western society – on everything from feudalism to fashion – are inestimable. Ironically, they also put an end to the centuries-old rivalry between the Arabs and Byzantines. By occupying Constantinople, the capital of their Christian allies, in the Fourth Crusade, the Crusaders achieved what the Arabs had been trying to do from the early days of Islam. Although the Byzantine Empire continued until 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, it never recovered its former power after the Fourth Crusade, and subsisted only in the half-light of history during its remaining years.
For the West, however, the Crusaders’ greatest achievement was the opening of the eastern Mediterranean to European shipping. The Venetians and Genoese established trading colonies in Egypt, and luxury goods of the East found their way to European markets. In the history of the Middle Ages, this was far more important than ephemeral conquests. Control of the Eastern trade became a constantly recurring theme in later relations between the European countries and the East, and in the nineteenth century was to lead to widespread Western intervention.
Chronology of Crusades
The First Crusade
Kilij Arslan, sultan of Nicaea, crushes a
crusaders invasion led by Peter the Hermit.
First great expedition by the Crusaders, known as
Franj in Arabia.
The Crusaders take Edessa and then Antioch, and
triumph over a Muslim rescue army commanded by Karbuqa, ruler of Mosul. The incident of
cannibalism by the crusaders in Maarra.
"For three days they put people to
Fall of Jerusalem, followed by massacres and
plunder by the crusaders.
The population of the holy city was
put to the sword, and the
Baldwin, count of Edessa, escapes an
Muslim victory at Harran, which checks the
Crusaders' eastward advance.
Two coalitions made up of Crusaders and Muslims
confront one another near Tel Bashir.
|1109||Fall of Tripoli after a 2000-day siege.|
|1110||Fall of Beirut and Saida.|
Ibn al-Khashab, the qadi of Aleppo, organizes a
riot against the caliph of Baghdad to demand intervention against the Frankish occupation.
|1112||Victorious resistance at Tyre.|
Alliance of Muslim and Frankish princes of Syria
against an army dispatched by the sultan.
Ilghazi, ruler of Aleppo, crushes the Crusaders
The Crusaders take Tyre. They now occupy the
entire coast, except for Ascalon.
|1125||Ibn al-Khashab is murdered by the Assassins sect.|
Failure of crusaders thrust at Damscus. Zangi the
ruler of Aleppo.
|1135||Zangi fails to take Damascus.|
Zangi captures Fulk, king of Jerusalem, then
|1140||Alliance of Damascus and Jerusalem against Zangi.|
|1144-1155||The Second Crusade|
Zangi takes Edessa, destroying the first of the
four Frankish states of the Orient.
Murder of Zangi. His son Nur al-Din replaces him
Debacle at damascus for a new
Nur al-Din takes control of Damascus, unifying
Muslim Syria under his authority.
The struggle for Egypt. Shirkuh, lieutenant of
Nur al-Din, finally wins. Proclaimed vizier, he dies two months later. He is succeeded by
his nephew Saladin (Salahuddin).
Saladin proclaims the overthrow of the Fatimid
caliphate. Sole master of Egypt, he finds himself in conflict with Nur al-Din.
|1174||Death of Nur al-Din. Saladin takes Damascus.|
Saladin takes Aleppo. Egypt and Syria now
reunited under his aegis.
|1187-1192||The Third Crusade|
The year of victory. Saladin crushes the
crusaders armies at Hittin, near Lake Tiberias. He reconquers Jerusalem and the greater
part of the crusaders territories. The crusaders now hold only Tyre, Tripoli and Antioch.
Setback for Saladin at Acre. Intervention of
Richard the Lionheart, king of England, enables the crusaders to recover several cities
from the sultan, but not Jerusalem.
Saladin dies in Damascus at the age of 55. After
several years of civil war, his empire is reunited under the authority of his brother
|1194-1201||The Fourth and Fifth Crusade|
The crusaders take Constantinople. Sack of the
|1216-1218||The Sixth Crusade|
Invasion of Egypt by the crusaders. They take
Damietta and head for Cairo, but the sultan al-Kamil, son of al-Adil, finally repels them.
|1227-1229||The Seventh Crusade|
Al-Kamil delivers Jerusalem to the emperor
Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, arousing a storm of indignation in the Arab world.
The crusaders lose Jerusalem for the
|1245-1247||The Eighth Crusade|
Invasion of Egypt by Louis IX, King of France,
who is defeated and captured. Fall of the Ayyubid dynasty; replaced by the rule of the
The Mongol chief Hulegu, grandson of Genghis
Khan, sacks Baghdad, massacring the population and killing the last Abbasid caliph.
The Mongol army, after occupying first Aleppo and
then damascus, is defeated at the battle of Ayn Jalut in palestine. Baybars at the head of
the Mamluk sultanate.
Baybars takes Antioch, which had been allied with
Louis IX dies near Tunis in the course of a
|1289||The mamluk sultan Qalawun takes Tripoli.|
The sultan Khalil, son of Qalawun, takes Acre,
putting an end to two centuries of crusaders presence in the Orient.