Religion and the Crusades

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The Beginning of the Crusades Turks from Central Asia began to challenge the Byzantine Empire in the 11th century. The sultans, their leaders, had the goal of acquiring more territory and being seen as a legitimate force in the Middle East. The Turks were seasoned mercenaries, highly skilled in battle and fiercely dedicated to Allah. As they pressed west into Anatolia and then south, they took over Jerusalem and the Holy Land. They were militant Islamists and would not permit Christians to visit the Holy Land or Jerusalem, foundational locations for Christianity. Greek Emperor Comnenus took notice of the rapidly advancing Turks and was concerned that he, too, would be invaded. He conferred with Pope Urban II, who was regarded as a rival, and asked for help in the form of an army. Pope Urban II called a meeting of hundreds of clergymen, aristocracy and rulers to discuss this, and other, issues.

During that council in Clermont, France, it was decided that they would form an army to retake Jerusalem. This was to be a Holy War to reclaim Christian control of the lands taken by the zealous Turks, a crusade. As an incentive, the Pope guaranteed that anyone who gave his life in battle would go directly to Heaven. The Support of the Roman Catholic Church What began as a righteous' crusade to reclaim the Holy Land, everyone had their own agendas. Pope Urban II had ambitious desires to convert the Eastern Orthodox Christians in the Middle East to Roman Catholicism and have a united Christian church under his leadership. With each new crusade, it seemed that the driving factor strayed further and further from religion and closer to the acquisition of land and accumulation of wealth. The Roman Catholic Church organized and helped fund the early crusades; not only against Muslims, but also against pagans, Jews and even Christian sects that went against the authority of the Catholic church.

The Crusaders were brutal and slaughtered men, women, and children as they conquered - all while wearing the cross, a sign of Christianity, and claiming to crusade in the name of God. With the success of the crusades came wealth to the church, more converts meant more taxes and greater authority. The support of the church for the Crusades diminished in the later campaigns which were less important to the church's interests. However, even with an end to the crusades, the office of the Pope grew to be powerful and wield far-reaching authority. (Crusades. 2010.)

Islamic Expansion The Umayyad Dynasty and the Abbasid Dynasty ruled and expanded Islamic territory in very different ways. The Umayyad Dynasty, founded by Mu'awiya of the Umayya clan, preferred bribery, treachery and negotiation over physical combat to acquire new territory. Arab-born Muslims were given preference over non-Arab Muslims. They had an organized, central administration from which efficient battle campaigns were organized, when necessary. Their senior positions in the army were all loyal, Arab-Muslims; non-Arab Muslims were welcome to join and fight in the army, but could not hold high-ranking positions. Not only were other religions not treated justly, even other Muslims experienced persecution if they were not Arab. In contrast, the Abbasid Dynasty would expand through a government of tolerance and piety.

Their soldiers were primarily non-Arab Muslims and even those who were not Muslim at all were given the opportunity to hold office. Their extended trade routes, diplomatic relations with neighboring territories and social justice were attractive to people from many places. People wanted to live there. The empire grew as a result of an efficient, structured government, commitment to social justice, diversity in trade, innovation as a result of intercultural exposure, and policy of largely leaving other cities alone as long as they paid taxes and remained non-violent. The Silk Road and The Spreading of Disease The Silk Road was a vast network of trade routes that were interconnected throughout North Africa, Europe and Asia. Along these routes travelers could find places to rest, markets for commerce, food / drink, cultural exchanges, and technology.

As people traveled great distances, so did their native diseases and illnesses. The spreading of the Bubonic (Black) Plague is a great example of this. It is believed that the Bubonic Plague originated in South China and was carried to North China by Mongols and Chinese travelers. From there, travelers had access to the Silk Road. Carried by fleas which then infect rats and other animals, including humans, the pathogen that causes The Plague was spread by land and by sea from sparsely populated, rural areas to larger, urban areas. It could be carried by fleas in bags of grain, fleas in clothing or bedding or by direct contact with already infected humans or rodents. (Acrobatiq. 2017.) The social impact of the Bubonic Plague and the spread of other diseases was huge. Commerce and travel came to a screeching halt for fear of further spreading the deadly disease. Schools and churches were closed and houses were boarded up. Millions of people died, creating a devastating loss of workers and a great reduction of demand for products that were supporting the economies of large cities. Prices of many products toppled along with the level of demand. Hiring laborers became very expensive since there were so few and could demand higher wages. The deaths of political leaders and influencers caused upheaval and resulted in changes in governments. Innovation stagnated for many years as cities struggled to recover. The Plague created devastation that was evidenced across Europe, Asia and Africa for centuries.


  1. Acrobatiq. (2017). Survey of world history. Retrieved from Staff. (2010).
  2. Crusades. Retrieved July 27, 2018 from Wikipedia contributors. (2018, July 27).
  3. Silk Road. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:32, July 28, 2018, from
  4. Map of Routes of First Crusade [Digital image]. Retrieved July 27, 2018, from
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Religion And The Crusades. (2019, Dec 11). Retrieved February 22, 2024 , from

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