Why Crusades Failed?

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 The First Crusade was during a transitional time in Western Europe. It was during a period where religion was an important construct for many people, but it was also during a time where people were starting to seek knowledge with the establishment of the first universities. In contrast, the Fourth and Fifth crusades were during that would soon erupt into religious strife. The unity that the church had enjoyed at the start of the 12th century had all but disappeared. This paper will take a look at the First, Fourth and Fifth crusades and why the First Crusade went so well while the Fourth and Fifth crusades went so poorly.        

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The lead up to the First Crusade was marked by the Byzantine Empire suffering a number of setbacks on the Anatolian Peninsula. There was a massive loss of power on the peninsula following a devastating defeat in the Battle of Manzikert that resulted in the Seljuk Turks gaining a strong foothold on the peninsula. …but he was routed by Alp Arslan at Manzikert, in eastern Anatolia, in 1071, and subsequently the whole of Asia Minor was lost (Andrew Jotischky 42).

This battle also resulted in the capture and eventual death of the Byzantine Emperor Romanos IV. This directly impacts the decision of Byzantine Emperor Alexius I to send out a request for help to the papacy and the West. This wound up being addressed by Pope Urban II during the Council of Clermont in the year 1095. While there is no official transcript of what he said, there are multiple versions of the speech that have appeared. For, as the most of you have heard, the Turks and Arabs have attacked them and have conquered the territory of Romania as far west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont (Fulcher of Chartres). This call to arms led to the First Crusade which officially began in 1095 and ended in 1099 with the establishment of the Crusader States and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The reason why the First Crusade was so successful is because of a couple of factors. The first reason is that the crusaders were more or less unified under their religion and as a result, their armies were more cooperative than the crusader armies in the Fourth and Fifth crusades.

The main reason for their unity was the way that Pope Urban II had gone about delivering the message of the call to arms. During his speech at the Council of Clermont, he had made the promise that those who participated would be absolved of their sins. All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins (Fulcher of Chartres). Another reason why they were more successful than future crusades is that in contrast to the crusaders, the Muslim world was in a state of division. This was due to the emergence of two distinct branches of Islam, which began a series of conflicts between Muslim kingdoms. When the crusaders arrived in the East they were faced with Muslim factions that weren’t organized and were divided. It is apparent in future crusades that with a unified Muslim front they wound up with far less success. A third reason why they were more successful is that the crusader armies were led by small lords such as dukes or counts and not by kings.

?his resulted in more cooperation between the armies that appears to be absent at times during future crusades. An example would be during the Third Crusade when the crusader army had been close to besieging Jerusalem they were forced to abandon the prospect of a siege due to the Kings not agreeing on a course of action. The Fourth Crusade was seen as a victory for the Crusaders but it had turned into a fight between the Crusaders and the Byzantine Empire. Pope Innocent III had called the Crusade in 1198 in the hope that they could finally recapture Jerusalem from Muslim forces. The Fourth Crusade began to fall off due to a high level of difficulty in procuring funds in order to adequately obtain both soldiers and provisions to maintain the army. This difficulty led to the crusader army being unable to fully pay the Venetians for their transit to Constantinople. The result was the crusader army attacking the city of Zara which was a Catholic city that was under control of the kingdom of Hungary. The Crusaders could not meet the terms of their treaty with the Venetians, so they were compelled to accept Venetian transport on revised terms that included the capture of former Venetian possession of Zara (Jotischky 176). The sacking of the city resulted in the crusader army and the Venetians being excommunicated by Pope Innocent III.

After lifting the ban on the crusader army they later arrived at their destination of Constantinople. This was because of the promise by Alexius IV to be given a lot of money and soldiers for their crusade to Jerusalem if they put him on the throne he claims was rightfully his. After installing him on the throne they learn that he didn’t actually have any of the things that he had promised them so they besiege the city and sacked Constantinople. When Alexios was unable to deliver, the Crusaders had no alternative but to sack the city in order to secure sufficient resources to fulfill their vows (Jotischky 176). The biggest reason for the blunder that is the Fourth Crusade is the lack of funds needed to get the crusade off of the ground. If the Crusaders had been properly funded then Zara and Constantinople most likely wouldn’t have been sacked. Both were attacked out of the Crusaders feeling it a necessity in order to continue their journey to Jerusalem. Pope Innocent III also called the Fifth Crusade in the year 1213. This time the Crusader destination was Ayyubid Egypt. They learned similarly to many who had invaded the Middle East that Egypt was crucial to maintaining control of Jerusalem. The Crusaders made it to Egypt in 1217 and because of their inaction initially, they are caught in the annual flooding of the Nile which wound up spreading disease to the Crusaders and by the time their reinforcements arrived their numbers had dwindled due to the disease.

After nearly three of sieges and exhaustion the Crusaders had lost an immense amount of men. They also had found themselves still very far from their mission to capture Cairo. …but in 1099 the final assault on Jerusalem was made possible by the timely arrival of the Italian fleet, whereas in 1221 the expected reinforcements did not arrive (Jotischky 236). The Crusade wound up ending after a disastrous defeat on the march to Cairo after the Ayyubid army under the leadership of Al-Kamil that had launched a surprise attack. A common theme between the Fourth and Fifth Crusades was that they ultimately failed in their endeavors because they lacked proper manpower and they were both insufficiently funded. Another reason why the Fifth Crusade failed, though was because of a lack of unity between the commanders, similarly to the Third Crusade, they would bicker over who gets which town or which castle instead of focusing on finishing the campaign.

A final factor that contributed to the utter failure of the Fifth Crusade is that the Muslims were able to unify in their effort to repel the invading host. In conclusion, the First Crusade had been successful because of the main reasons behind it. They had set out to aid the Byzantine Empire, capture the Holy Land, and establish the Kingdom of Jerusalem. It had also been the first time that something like this had been called with the amount of fervor that Pope Urban II and the church had done. They also were facing an enemy that wasn’t unified and even fighting amongst one another. On the other hand, you have the Fourth and Fifth Crusades which were complete failures in what they had been called to do. They both failed because they hadn’t been adequately financed and there was a unified effort in what they had set out to accomplish.

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Why Crusades Failed?. (2019, Aug 08). Retrieved January 28, 2023 , from
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