to the Crusades
We are going to consider the time between 1096 and
1291, which spans about 200 years. Stop now and think
about that period of time. Has Christopher Columbus
sailed yet? How long has it been since the fall of Rome?
Is most of Europe Christian yet, or is it still peopled
by the Celts and pagans? Has the bubonic plague struck
Europe yet? What’s happening, by your best guess,
in the American continents at this time? Is it the time
of Robin Hood or Boyz in the Hood? Don’t move
on until you know where you’re standing.
The year 1096 in medieval Europe was neither the gentlest
nor the most intellectual. That’s not to say that
people were stupid, but they certainly were very naive.
They believed the priests of the Roman Catholic Church
who told them they were sinners and that life was tough
and was meant to be — that they were paying for
Adam and Eve’s disobedience a long time ago. They
believed that the misery of this life would be erased
in the second life everlasting after they had died.
They didn’t have much food; they didn’t
have much schooling; they certainly didn’t have
much in the way of breaks in life. They did have the
church, and the church ruled their lives and gave them
Making the church angry, then, was serious business.
The church gave (and sometimes sold) the forgiveness
that medieval people needed to get into heaven. A torturous
and evil hell was a very real thing to these people.
They were already living it; they certainly didn’t
need more of it after death. So the people listened
to the church and its holy fathers and tried to do as
they were told.
Also during these 200 years, people followed the principle
of primogeniture. This meant that the oldest son inherited
all the land and riches. Standing around in their armor,
doing not much else but grumbling, were a bunch of nobles’
second, third and fourth sons. They couldn’t even
go about causing problems by using their superior advantage
to spread misery because the church had made rules about
when and where they could fight. A bunch of strong boys
with sharp toys looking for a place to rumble: sounds
The leaders of the church didn’t like all these
unemployed knights getting into trouble. They also didn’t
like the idea that the church and Christendom (the geographic
areas that followed Christianity) were basically split
into two parts. Years ago, the eastern part of the Roman
Empire divided off and returned to following Greek ways
of life. This division was called the Byzantine Empire
and its capital was Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire
had slightly different rules and very different lifestyles
from the Roman Empire, even though both empires’
people were Christian. The Byzantines were much more
civilized than the barbarian-influenced western area.
Rome’s pope and the church leaders of the western
region wanted to bring both sides together under the
leadership of the pope, but there was no easy way to
Bingo! The Turks were threatening Alexis Comena, who
was the emperor of the Byzantine Empire. The Turks had
pushed their way across and through several civilizations,
had overrun Jerusalem and were now knocking on the door
of Comena’s empire. Comena wrote to Pope Urban
II, leader of the western church, and asked for help.
The pope took all these bored, misbehaving knights and
promised them heavenly forgiveness and lands (except
for the eastern half of Christendom) if they would reunite
Europe and the church under the western pope’s
influence. He was a man with a plan; however, the best
laid plans often go astray.
As you learn about the Crusades (the word means “war
of the cross”), you’ll see that this period
is the beginning of a long and hard conflict between
Muslim and Christian people. The Crusades led to quiet
and almost unnoticed changes in the Christian world.
However, those changes turned out to be very important
in changing the medieval world into the Renaissance
The people who came back from the Crusades adopted
new fashions, manners, foods, spices, cultural outlooks,
learning and weapons. But the people who waited behind
changed as well. They became less trusting of the church
and its motives and people. They began to question.
They also were given their first opportunity and permission
to ignore the desires of their lords and masters. The
world was changing; it just didn’t know it yet.