INVASIONS UNDER THE CROSS
The Christian glories in the death of the pagan, because Christ
is therefore glorified.
---"Saint" Bernard [in Durants, Age of Faith, 593]
Racist theology was now used to provoke (and rationalize) military attacks on the Muslim world. In their bid to direct world affairs as the leaders of christendom, the popes provoked a series of murderous military assaults on Palestine. Religion was merely a pretext for the Crusades. These wars aimed to reestablish European control over key trade routes to Asia and Africa. They aided Italian banking interests closely linked to the papacy. Not only did christian rulers feel threatened by Muslim states in the Mediterranean, but papal hopes for a theocratic empire called for control of Palestine, the birthplace of christianity.
The popes saw other benefits to an invasion of Palestine. It would redirect the warlords' devastating internecine conflicts, which were wrecking Europe's economy. Where the "Truce of God" had failed to pacify the barons, greed and power-lust gave them a motivation to make war elsewhere. Common men went on crusade for their own reasons: escape from serfdom and a chance to jump up in the class hierarchy.
To rouse European knighthood to war, the pope crafted a rhetoric of racism. In 1095 Urban II called for a holy war against the Turks and Arabs before a council of barons and bishops at Clermont. He claimed that it was the duty of christians to assemble armies under the sign of the cross and invade Palestine. Urban's declaration of holy war was calculated to arouse hatred of the Muslim Turks and Arabs. He attacked them as infidels and demonized them on the basis of race:
O race of Franks! Race beloved and chosen of God... From the confines of Jerusalem and from Constantinople a grievous report has gone forth that an accursed race, wholly alienated from God, has violently invaded the lands of these Christians and has depopulated them by pillage and fire... Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulchre; wrest that land from a wicked race, and subject it to yourselves... [Thatcher, Library of Original Sources]
Urban used religion as an incitement to genocide. Claiming to speak for god, the pope urged "men of all ranks" to move quickly to "exterminate this vile race from the lands ruled by our brethren." The Byzantine emperors still claimed Palestine though they had already lost it, first to the Arabs (641) and later to the Turks. Byzantium's Orthodox Christian domain rapidly shrank after its territorial peak of 1025.
Pope Urban's address laid a foundation for the racist ideology of European and christian supremacy that would later serve colonizers of Africa and the Americas. He characterized Asians and Africans as devilish peoples who deserved to be attacked on religious grounds.
Oh, what a disgrace if a race so despised, so entirely the slave of demons, should thus conquer omnipotent God's elect people, rendered illustrious by the name of Christ!
In his call to war, Urban held out the promise that all crusaders' debts would be suspended (or cancelled, if owed to Jews) and that the Church would take care of lords' estates while they were away fighting. The pope invited robbers to turn soldier, plundering abroad instead of in their own lands. He urged "those who have formerly been mercenaries at low wages" to reap eternal rewards by fighting in Palestine, and promised that the sins of crusading soldiers would be wiped out "by the power of God vested in me." His strongest enticement was the promise of plunder and rapine: a new territory was being presented to be carved up, to the glory of god.
[Graphic: Urban II and Peter the Hermit preaching the First Crusade]
Chroniclers wrote that the mostly aristocratic audience at Clermont responded to the pope's address by leaping up and shouting, "God wills it!" The big Norman barons were especially eager for the military adventure. Stirred by the prospect of war against dark unbelievers, they inaugurated their crusade in Europe with devastating pogroms against the Jews. The knights of Rouen said that if they did not kill the Jews before the Muslims, it would be "to start the whole affair backward." Richard of Poitiers wrote that the crusaders "exterminated with many massacres the Jews of almost all Gaul." [Poliakov I, 41-2]
French and German lords led the crusaders in systematically killing Jews as they moved up the Rhine, looting and firing their homes in Worms, Mainz, Cologne and many smaller towns. At Worms they dug up a body and paraded it through town, accusing the Jews of killing the person, boiling the body, then throwing the mixture into wells-possibly the earliest instance of the deadly ritual murder charge. [Trachtenberg, 148]
Along the road to Palestine, through Germany, Bohemia, Hungary and the Balkans, the crusader mob burned Jews alive in their houses and temples, forced them to baptism at swordpoint, raped and committed other atrocities against young and old. In Prague alone they murdered several thousands Jews. [Poliakov I, 42-45] They did their blood work to a fearsome cry: Hep! Hep! This shout has a clerical origin, abbreviating the Latin phrase: Hierosalyma est perdita, "Jerusalem is lost." It survived as a pogrom chant into the 20th century.
There was no sanctuary for the people that the Church had branded christ-killers. Even sympathetic bishops were unable to protect the Jews from the roving armies. In the aftermath, the Church insisted that the countless forced baptisms were valid. Only the victims who protested at the exact moment of baptism would be recognized as Jews, but of course all of them had been killed on the spot. [Poliakov I, 47, fn6]
The atrocities were repeated on a larger scale when Jerusalem fell to the christian armies. The crusaders slaughtered the city's inhabitants: Muslims, Jews and Christians, men, women and children. The Franks' own chroniclers admitted to killing 10,000, the mounted knights splattered in blood up to their hips. One wrote, "We slaughtered without regard for age or sex." [Gontard, 250] Muslim sources wrote that the crusaders killed 100,000 people. Their violence shocked the Muslims, who had peaceably allowed Christian pilgrims to visit Palestine for several centuries.
We have mingled our blood and our tears
None of us remains who has strength enough to beat off these oppressors;
Oh, that so much blood has to flow, that so many women were left with nothing save their bare hands to protect their modesty!
Amid the fearful clashing of swords and lances, the faces of the children grow white with horror.
--Palestinian poet and eyewitness Mosaffer Allah Werdis
The great Norman warlords were quick to carve out new domains in the Holy Land, declaring themselves Count of Edessa, King of Jerusalem, Prince of Antioch. Their lesser followers enriched themselves by seizing what loot they could. The trading houses of Genoa, Pisa and Venice became rich, and Europe's early banking fortunes were built, on the foundation of riches stolen from Jerusalem and Sidon.
More bigotry is evident in the forged "Appeal from the Eastern Emperor" which attempted to drum up support for the crusaders. The targets this time were Muslims, who were accused of raping males of all ages, including monks and bishops. The writers made anti-Semitic claims that christian boys were being circumcized over baptismal fonts. Many European writers spread these accusations and enlarged on them. A century later Jacques de Vitry was claiming that Muhammad had popularized gay sex among Arabs and comparing them to animals "buried in the filth of obscene desire." [Boswell, 281]
Crusaders who stayed in Asia were accused of becoming effeminate, but as John Boswell wrote, "The earliest and most drastic legislation against gay people enacted by any government of the High Middle Ages was passed in the nascent kingdom of Jerusalem by Europeans..." The crusaders ordered gays to be burned at the stake, and sentenced adulterous wives to death as well. [Boswell, 281, fn39]
A second crusade was called when Muslim forces succeeded in retaking key ports and lands surrounding the "Kingdom of Jerusalem." The call to war was spearheaded by the preachings of Bernard of Clairvaux, a prominent abbot who had been active in the Gregorian "reform." This soon-to-be-sainted preacher continued Urban's policy of promoting hatred of other cultures as a rationale for conquest:
The Christian glories in the death of the pagan, because Christ is therefore glorified. [Durants, 593]
Pagan to these men meant anyone but a European christian, including Muslims and Jews as well as followers of old folk religions.
Once again, anti-Semitic preachers incited attacks on the Jews. The abbot of Cluny, calling them "enemies of Christ," advocated that their lot be made as miserable as possible, "so that life will be more bitter to them than death." [Keller, 207] The crusaders carried out mass slaughters of Jewish communities in Germany and northern France. (Though deeply anti-Semitic, Bernard did defend the Jews from Crusader pogroms.)
Bitter rivalry between christian knights guaranteed the failure of the second crusade. Saladin of Egypt succeeded in retaking Jerusalem in 1187 - - without a massacre. He readmitted Jews to the city. Even his christian enemies praised him for his humane treatment of prisoners of war. They themselves rarely bothered to take any, except for wealthy officers who could be ransomed for a high price.
The Third Crusade collapsed under the constant squabbling between aristocratic knights and their inability to cooperate with the Greek christians of Constantinople. By the Fourth Crusade all pretense of the religious goal of regaining Jerusalem had been dropped. The western knights beseiged, sacked, and burned the Greek Orthodox capital Constantinople. A prostitute achieved fame for sitting on the imperial throne of the Byzantines, singing bawdy songs in Norman French, while knights around her drank wine from sacramental chalices and trampled icons. These lords set up Count Baldwin of Flanders as "Latin Emperor" over the defeated Greeks. [Durants]
By this time the motives of the knightly crusaders were thoroughly discredited. Preachers stirred up a movement of christian youth who claimed that only the innocent and sinless could recover the holy city. The Children's Crusade was doomed from the start. As large groups of young people arrived at the Mediterranean coast looking for boats to take them east, European pirates took them aboard and sold them into slavery. Many girls were sold directly into brothels in the ports of Genoa and Marseilles; others were shipped off to be sold in Tunis, Algiers and Alexandria. [Heer]
As early as the mid-1100s a broad current of opposition to the crusades swelled in France, Germany, Italy and England. This movement has been called the Countercrusades. [Heer, 107] So strong was public opinion against crusaders that the city of Regensburg ordered the death penalty to anyone wearing a crusader's cross.
Commoners were angry at the continuing tax burden placed on them to finance military expeditions. With many men off to war for years, some never to return, production fell. Prostitution increased. Common women suffered from the economic dislocation caused by the crusades. Some ladies enjoyed greater privilege, taking over administration of estates in the absence of their husbands and brothers. Others, because of that same absence of male relatives, suffered as distant male cousins seized their estates or unscrupulous barons forced them into marriage.
The crusades gave rise to powerful orders of military monks: the Knights Templar, the Hospitallers, the Brotherhood of the Sword and the Teutonic Knights. These all-male aristocratic organizations extracted fortunes from their west Asian colonies. As they lost hold of Palestine, they returned to Europe in search of new power bases.
Long before the anti-Muslim crusades came to an end, the Teutonic Knights and other military orders spearheaded a series of crusades against pagans in northeastern Europe. Other crusades were fought against the pagan Cumans in Hungary and the Ukraine. During the Second Crusade, a papal dispensation called for crusaders to wipe out the pagan Wendish resistance in what is now east Germany.
The Basques were being pressed into christian feudalism on both sides of the Pyrenees, while Spanish lords fought a crusade against the Islamic Moors. (Spanish knights did not commonly take a vow and the cross in the manner of crusaders until the early 1200s.) [Foreigners who came to help their "Reconquista" sacked the Jewish quarters in 1066, 1090, 1147 and 1212. Poliakov II, 109, 114]
Mozarabic christians fared ill under the Reconquista. Often they were reduced to slavery; the crusaders carried off muslims and christians indiscriminately. In most cases the conquerors took their land and made them serfs, chained to the land like many other poor peasants in the Visigoth-ruled lands. [Trend, 62-66] The laws imposed on newly conquered lands were heavily influenced by the clergy. The foros subjected Muslims to the harshest treatment, and contain many provisions regarding runaway slaves. [Trend, 33]
The slave trade out of northwestern Europe had slowed to a trickle, but Italian traders were trafficking in slaves taken in the crusades. The Byzantines were still taking captives in border wars along the Black Sea. Constantinople had a huge slave market located in the Valley of Lamentations. Not until 1095 did the Orthodox Church permit slaves to marry before a priest, a ruling that was ignored into the next century. [Phillips, 92, 37-8] It was not until 1335 that the king of Sweden decreed that offspring of christian slaves were to be free from birth. The old custom of enslaving pagans died hard.
Even before the first crusade against Palestine, "religious" wars were fought against Scandinavian pagans. Ambitious northern warlords found that they could enhance their political prospects by allying with christian rulers and the imperial Church. Using christianization as a pretext for consolidating their military control, they fought a series of crusades against pagan religion in Norway, Iceland, and Sweden.
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