The Horrors of the Crusades

Islamic critics of the Crusaders are right. The historical record shows the Crusades were a series of some of the greatest horrors in history.

Sadly, many people; particularly in the West, do not realize how horrific and destructive the Crusades were. Essentially, the Crusades were a long series of atrocities and church-sanctioned plunder expeditions disguised as Holy War.

All the Crusades were bad, but a few horrors of the Crusades stand out. The worst horrors of the Crusades include:

1. The Fourth Crusade

The greatest horror of the Crusades was the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204). The Fourth Crusade was the most cynical and ruthless war in human history.

Historian Sir Steven Runciman calls the Fourth Crusade; “The Crusade Against Christians” in his classic history The Crusades.* To explain, the Fourth Crusade’s target was the Greek Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire.

Ironically, the Fourth Crusade started as a campaign to recover Jerusalem from the Ayyubid Empire. After organizing the Crusaders found they did not have enough money to finance the journey to the Holy Land.

Needing cash the Crusaders turned to the Venetian Republic which did not want them to attack its trading partner the Ayyubid Empire. The Fourth Crusade put Venice’s leaders in a bind.

The Venetians did not want to offend either the Ayyubid Sultan nor the Pope, who sponsored the Crusade. Venice’s chief executive Doge Enrico Dandolo solved the problem by changing the Crusade’s direction.

Cynically, Dandolo redirected the Fourth Crusade to Venice’s arch enemy the Byzantine Empire. Disgustingly, the Papacy went along with its plan because the Crusade could conquer Orthodox Constantinople for the Roman Catholic Church.

To get the Crusaders to attack Constantinople Dandolo changed the terms of the loan Venice issued to finance the Fourth Crusade. The Crusaders would only get the money if they attacked Constantinople and backed a coup against Byzantine Emperor Alexios III Angelos.

When the Crusading army arrived at Constantinople the coup backfired; because the Orthodox Greeks refused to help the Crusaders. Instead, of a coup the Crusaders attacked and looted Constantinople, a Christian city, in April 1204.

During the sack, the Crusaders raped Christian women, looted churches, burned Christians homes, and killed thousands of Christians. The Crusaders destroyed Christian art, smelted religious artwork down for the precious metals, and desecrated churches.

After the looting, the Crusaders established the Catholic Latin Empire of Constantinople with a Belgian nobleman, Count Baldwin of Flanders, as Emperor. Greece was divided up among a number of Crusading noblemen.

Predictably, once the looting was over most of the Crusaders took their money and went home. During the 13th Century most soldiers fought for loot because armies had no regular pay or pension plans.

After the crimes in Greece, a token force of Crusaders hypocritically went on to the Holy Land. There they attacked a few minor targets before going home. The armies of the Fourth Crusade never got near Jerusalem the Crusade’s supposed objective.

In the final analysis, the Fourth Crusade helped Islam by destroying the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire, was the one Christian state that formed an effective barrier against Islamic invasion of Europe.

Once Byzantium was destroyed, there was nothing to stop the Islamic Ottoman Turks from crossing the Bosporus and conquering the Balkans. By 1529 Turkish armies were operating in Central Europe and attacking Vienna.

2. The Alexandrian Crusade

The Alexandrian Crusade in 1365 was the most cynical and barbaric crusade of all. In reality, the Alexandrian Crusade was a plunder expedition designed only to fill the Crusaders’ pockets.

Notably, the Crusade’s leader King Peter I targeted the richest Muslim city; the could find the trading center of Alexandria. Alexandria was hundreds of miles from the holy sites in Palestine.

In the Crusade, Peter I led a force of Venetian galleys, European mercenaries, noblemen, and the Knights Hospitaller from Rhodes to Alexandria. In October 1365, the Crusaders arrived at the peaceful city of Alexandria and took it by surprise.

At Alexandria, the Crusaders looted the city and killed thousands of people; including hundreds of Christians. The Crusaders looted churches, mosques, synagogues, private homes, and even the city’s library.Disgustingly, the Crusaders actually kidnapped 5,000 people and sold them into slavery.

Once the looting was complete most of the Crusaders went home with their plunder. King Peter tried to stay but quickly pulled out when he heard the Egyptian army was coming to recover the city.

The Alexandrian Crusade was the last European expedition to the Eastern Mediterranean until Napoleon I’s Egyptian campaign in the 1790s. The Crusades ended not with a reconquest of Jerusalem but with organized plunder.

3. The Sacks of Jerusalem

Both sides looted and desecrated places of worship and massacred unarmed civilians in Jerusalem; the supposed object of the Crusades.

During the First Crusade in 1099, Crusaders massacred the Holy City’s Moslem and Jewish populations as a form of ethnic cleansing. Disgustingly, the Crusaders even massacred the Fatimid Egyptian garrison that surrendered to them.

In 1187 he Ayyubid leader founder Saladin peacefully occupied Jerusalem with no massacres in one of the few uncivilized acts of the Crusades. Sadly, Saladin was free to be magnanimous because his armies had slaughtered large numbers of Crusader prisoners.

To explain, after his victory at the Horns of Hattin in July 1187. Saladin let Moslem zealots in his army slaughter the most fanatical crusaders, the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller after they surrendered.*

Strangely, the Crusaders briefly recovered Jerusalem in 1229. To elaborate, the Christians regained the city through a peace deal between the German Emperor Frederick II and the Ayybuid Sultan Al-Malik al-Kamil, Saladin’s brother and successor.

Under the deal, they demilitarized Jerusalem and placed the Holy City under Crusader control. Unfortunately, that left the Holy City defenseless in 1244 when Turkish Khwarismian mercenaries, went on the rampage.

To clarify, the Khwarismian were freebooters whose main interest was loot. The Ayybuid invented the Khwarismian into the regain to defend it. However, the Khwarismian’s idea of defense was to pillage unprotected cities like Jerusalem.

The Khwarismian pillaged the city and killed any unarmed Christians they could find including priests saying mass. Then for good measure they broke into the tombs of the Kings of Jerusalem and smashed their bones.*

Sadly, the Ayybuid cynically used the Khwarismian rampage as an excuse to occupy Jerusalem and re-militarize it. Hence, the Holy City witnessed massacres by Christians and Moslems during the Crusades.

4. The Children’s Crusade

The strangest and most horrific abomination of the Crusades was the so-called Children’s Crusade.

In 1212 large numbers of French and German children began organizing their own Crusades. Incredibly, the gullible kids thought God would part the sea for them enabling them to walk to Jerusalem.

When the French Children’s Crusaders arrived at Genoa and Pisa the Mediterranean did not part. At the city of Pisa several ships’ captains volunteered to the take the children to the Holy Land.

Instead of the Holy Land some ships went to the island of San Pietro where sailors reportedly drowned many of the children. Many other children were taken to North Africa where the Christian sailors sold the Crusaders to Moslem slave traders.*

Thus, the Crusades which began as a Holy War for Christianity ended with Christians preying on Christians. The Crusades destroyed both Christian morality and Christianity itself.

5. The Destruction of the Cities

The Crusaders’ Coastal cities of Antioch, Acre, and Tyre were among the richest and most diverse ports in the Mediterranean.

The multicultural cities served as trading outposts for the Italian cities, disembarkation points for Pilgrims heading to Jerusalem, and military bases for the Crusaders. To the Ayybuid Sultans; however, the Crusader cities were a huge security risk.

As long as Crusaders held Antioch or Acre they could raid into Ayybuid territories. Antioch or Acre could serve as a beachhead for a campaign to retake Jerusalem.

Moreover, the Crusader cities distracted the Ayybuid armies from a far greater enemy the Mongols. The Mongols conquered Persia in the 13th Century and began threatening the Ayybuid. Predictably, the Crusaders allied themselves with the Mongols, which turned the European outposts from a nuisance into a menace.

The Ayybuid Sultan Baibars had an extreme but effective solution to the security problem: wipe the Crusader cities off the map. In 1268, Baibars and his army went after the richest Crusader city Antioch.

When Antioch fell, Baibars ordered the city’s gates closed so that its residents could not escape. Baibars’ Mameluke soldiers then killed all the people they found in the streets. Once the slaughter was over the Mamelukes sold the survivors into slavery.

The number of slaves taken by the Mamelukes at Antioch was huge. Runciman claims the market price for slaves fell because of the number of people enslaved in the city.*

Horrifically, Baibars’ plan went far beyond conquest. The Sultan took ethnic cleansing to its logical conclusion by depopulating and destroying Antioch. Antioch was one of the great cities of the world which had existed since 300 BC.

Baibars depopulated the city and left it empty. Economics played a role in Baibars’ “security concerns.” Antioch was a major competitor to Alexandria, Egypt’s commercial center. With Antioch gone, the Ayybuid could divert trade to Alexandria and make money from it.

Baibars’ successor, the Mameluke Sultan al-Ashraf completed the cleansing 23 years later by repeating the cleansing at the cities of Acre and Tyre in 1291. The Mamelukes looted and destroyed the cities. After the destruction the population was moved inland to new cities.

At Acre, the Mameluke armies pillaged and destroyed the city, killed the male residents, and sold the women and children into slavery. Forty years later, the German pilgrim Ludolf of Suchem found nothing but ruins at Acre. Egyptian soldiers even stole the doors from churches to decorate mosques in Cairo.*

The Mameluke cleansing destroyed the trading centers and impoverished the region but the Sultans achieved their primary goal. They established no Christian bases in Palestine, or Syria, again until the 19th Century. The Ayybuid amd Mamelukes secured their empire at a terrible price.

Modern readers will wonder if such cosmopolitanism outposts as Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates could suffer a similar fate some day.

The Nightmare of the Crusades

The memory of the Crusades became a nightmare that haunts the Islamic world to this day. Even though the Mongols did far more damage to the Islamic world, it is the Crusaders people remember.

Many Moslems began believing all Christians were barbarians and their enemies because of the Crusades. That fear and prejudice made it easy for Islamic thinkers to ignore all the cultural, technological, and scientific progress taking part in Europe. Hence, the Islamic world missed out on the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution.

Sadly, Islamic intellectuals only began paying attention to Europe when they realized European military technology was far more advanced than that of the Ottoman Empire. Predictably, it took the appearance of a different Crusader; Napoleon I, in Egypt in 1798 to show Moslems how backward they had become.

The distrust and hysteria generated by the Crusades continue to this day. The most important lesson we can learn from the horrors of the Crusades is not to go crusading. Crusades only lead to death, destruction, and barbarism.

*See A History of The Crusades by Sir Steven Runciman; Volume III, Page 107 for a full story.

*See A History of The Crusadesby Sir Steven Runciman; Volume Volume II, Book V, Chapter 2 The Horns of Hattin for full details.

*See A History of The Crusades by Sir Steven Runciman; Volume III, Page 211 for the disgusting details.

*See A History of The Crusades by Sir Steven Runciman; Volume III, Page 345.

*See A History of The Crusades by Sir Steven Runciman; Volume III, Page 421.