Crusades  

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"The First Crusade cannot be understood, as many still try by default to do, without understanding the situation in the eastern Mediterranean in the ten years before the Council of Clermont in 1095. Peter Frankopan’s work is crucial in this regard."[1]

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Crusades were a series of religious wars sanctioned by the Latin Church in the medieval period, especially the campaigns in the Eastern Mediterranean with the aim of capturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Islamic rule, to recapture Christian territory and defend Christian pilgrims. The term "crusades" is also applied to other campaigns sanctioned by the Church, fought to combat paganism and heresy or to resolve conflict among rival Roman Catholic groups, or to gain political or territorial advantage. The term crusades itself is early modern, modelled on Middle Latin cruciatae, and has in more recent times been extended to include religiously motivated Christian military campaigns in the Late Middle Ages.

The First Crusade arose after a call to arms in a 1095 sermon by Pope Urban II. Urban urged military support for the Byzantine Empire and its Emperor, Alexios I, who needed reinforcements for his conflict with westward migrating Turks in Anatolia. One of Urban's stated aims was to guarantee pilgrims access to the holy sites in the Eastern Mediterranean that were under Muslim control, but scholars disagree whether this was the primary motivation for Urban or the majority of those who heeded his call. Urban's wider strategy may have been to unite the Eastern and Western branches of Christendom, which had been divided since their split in the East–West Schism of 1054, and establish himself as head of the unified Church. Similarly, some of the hundreds of thousands of people who became crusaders by taking a public vow and receiving plenary indulgences from the church were peasants hoping for Apotheosis at Jerusalem, or forgiveness from God for all their sins. Others participated to satisfy feudal obligations, gain glory and honour, or find opportunities for economic and political gain. Regardless of the motivation, the response to Urban's preaching by people of many different classes across Western Europe established the precedent for later crusades.

Different perspectives of the actions carried out, at least nominally, under Papal authority during the crusades have polarised historians. To some their behaviour was incongruous with the stated aims and implied moral authority of the papacy and the crusades, in one case to the extent that the Pope excommunicated crusaders. Crusaders often pillaged as they travelled, while their leaders retained control of much captured territory rather than returning it to the Byzantines; During the People's Crusade thousands of Jews were murdered in what is now called the Rhineland massacres; and Constantinople was sacked during the Fourth Crusade rendering the reunification of Christendom impossible.

The crusades had a profound impact on Western civilisation: they reopened the Mediterranean to commerce and travel (enabling Genoa and Venice to flourish); consolidated the collective identity of the Latin Church under papal leadership; and were a wellspring for accounts of heroism, chivalry and piety. These tales consequently galvanised medieval romance, philosophy and literature. The crusades also reinforced the connection between Western Christendom, feudalism, and militarism.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Crusades" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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