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The First Contact of Crusaders and Turks (Anonymous)

by Jim Jones, West Chester University of Pennsylvania (c.2013)
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The Crusades were a series of wars initiated by western Christians over a period of almost two centuries. Ostensibly, their purpose was to gain access for Christians to holy sites in Palestine like Jerusalem, but as we will see from our readings, there were other motivations as well. Their impact was felt over a wide area and included the strengthening of feudal kings, the weakening of the Byzantine emperors, a loss of prestige by the papacy, an increase in European self-confidence, increased trade between Europeans and Muslims, the spread of geographical knowledge, improved access to classical Greek and Roman literature preserved in Arabic translations, and the reunification of Muslims to expel the Christian invaders.

Numerous accounts have survived from the Crusades, including the three examined in this course. Two describe events in the First Crusade from different viewpoints, while the third descibes a major turning point in the Fourth Crusade. This web page provides background to an account of the First Crusade written by an unknown Western European. It is an excerpt from a ten-volume history called The Deeds of the Franks and Other Pilgrims to Jerusalem. From the content of the writing, historians believe that the author was a Norman knight who was a vassal (follower) of Bohemund, one of the leaders of the First Crusade. This excerpt describes the exploits of Bohemund's army in 1097 when they left Constaninople, their siege of Antioch in 1098, and their conquest of Jerusalem in 1099.



At the time of the First Crusade, Islam was divided into three competing caliphates -- the Sunni caliphates of Cordoba (Spain) and Baghdad (Persia), and the Shi'ite Caliphate in Cairo (Egypt). In Baghdad, the caliph (leader of the religion) was actually chosen by leaders of the Seljuks, a Turkish clan from central Asia who had controlled Abbassid military forces. Similar contests took place between military and religious power in the other caliphates, and all of those devisions were replicated on a smaller scale throughout the Muslim world. For example, leaders in large cities in Syria were either allied with the caliph or the Seljuks, and rival cities fought wars against each other. Palestine was located between the Fatimids and Abbassids, and battles between the forces of the cities of Aleppo and Damascus were just as destructive as the Crusader invasions. Jerusalem changed hands frequently -- the Seljuk general Atsiz took it from the Fatimids in 1070, but they won it back in 1096, the year that the First Crusade began. Later, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099, but lost it again to Salah-al-din in 1187.

Although there were at least eight crusades (the definition became less precise in the later years), the only successful crusade was the first one. Using local Christians as guides, the Europeans took advantage of Muslim disunity to reach Jerusalem. Along the way, they conquered the Seljuk state of "Rum" (based at Nicaea, near Constantinople) in 1097 and gave it to the Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus (ruled 1081-1118). Next, they "liberated" Edessa, a land of Armenian Christians, after their king (Toros of the Roupenid dynasty) declared the Crusader Count Baldwin of Flanders to be his son and heir in 1098. The city of Antioch surrendered in 1098 after a long siege, while Tripoli (a town on the coast of modern Lebanon) paid the Crusaders to leave them alone. They overcame the last serious resistance at Jerusalem in 1099 and on December 25, 1100, Count Baldwin of Edessa was crowned King of Jerusalem in Bethlehem. Two years later, Crusaders led by Raymond of Toulouse captured Tripoli, and the final fiefs were created: the County of Tripoli, the Principality of Antioch, and the County of Edessa.

man dressed as a crusading knight, plus servant
Man dressed as a crusading knight, accompanied by a servant

The end of the First Crusade led to an increase in the number of Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem. New monastic orders formed and established houses in the Holy Land, while knights formed three Christian military orders -- the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem (a.k.a. the Knights Hospitaliers), the Knights Templars, and the Teutonic Knights. They received gifts from pilgrims and subsidies from nobles to establish houses in Jerusalem where their members and pilgrims could stay. Eventually, the military orders became wealthy enough to make investments in trade and wars.

The First Crusade's effect on the Muslim world was even more dramatic. Neither the Seljuk Sultan Berkyaruk nor the Arab Caliph al-Mustazhir -- both in Baghdad -- provided support to the people who resisted the Crusaders in Palestine. Other Muslims did offer aid however, and they produced a new generation of Muslim leaders. One was Zengi, the son of a Turkish slave, who led a force from Mosul that conquered Edessa in 1144. His success inspired other Muslim military leaders to come forward, including Zengi's son Nur-ad-Din, who conquered Damascus in 1154, the Kurdish leader Salah-al-Din, who took Jerusalem in 1187, and a Mamluk soldier named Baybars who captured Antioch in 1268 and Acre in 1291. Salah-al-Din eventually overcame the rest and unified Muslims by seizing the Fatimid Caliphate in 1171. Ordinary Muslims in Anatolia and Palestine experienced little change, since the First Crusade merely substituted a new land-owning aristocracy -- European Christians -- for an aristocracy composed of local Christians or Muslims. The peasants continued to work the land for their new lords, and since most of the Crusaders settled in towns, they had almost no impact in rural areas.

The Crusades had extensive economic consequences. Although they destroyed much life and property, they also stimulated European interest in trade goods from Asia and East Africa. During periods of peace between crusades, trade between Europeans and Muslims flourished, turning port cities like Beirut, Acre and Tyre into trading centers that attracted merchants from all directions. From Europe came woolen and linen textiles, plus different styles of glassware and other manufactured items, while the Intercommunicating Zone exported spices like sugar and ginger, and luxury textiles including muslin and damask. Italian port cities like Venice, Genoa and Pisa, which supplied ships for the First Crusade, gained special trading privileges in the newly conquered territories and sent representatives to live in Palestine's port cities, where they sold goods that reached markets as far inland as Mesopotamia. Muslim and Byzantine merchants made huge fortunes as well, and it was during this period that Byzantine emperors issued their first gold coins with Arabic inscriptions.

The Crusades also stimulated some cultural exchanges, although Muslim sources suggest that they were less interested in European culture than Europeans were in the much older Middle Eastern culture. In his memoirs, a man named Usumah (d. 1188) who fought with both Christian and Muslim armies, described relations between the Franks and the Muslims, and wrote that he found the Franks superior in nothing but courage and fighting. He did think, however, that Franks who adopted local customs -- for example, wearing local clothing in the hot climate and eating local food -- were acceptable as friends.

Later Crusades:

After Zengi conquered Edessa in 1144, western Europeans became fearful of a Muslim resurgence and launched a new crusade in 1147. Then, after Salah-al-din's army reconquered Jerusalem in 1187, the Europeans became even more agitated. The Second Crusade (1147-1149), was called by Pope Eugenius III, and led by both King Louis VII of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III (the future Holy Roman emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, also joined the effort). Henry and Conrad were rivals however, and each took his army by a different route, so they accomplished nearly nothing.

The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, the English King Richard I, and the French King Philip II all led armies on the Third Crusade (1189-1192), while the Pope exercised almost no influence. Despite some successes, like the capture of the Acre in 1191, Frederick drowned, Philip and Richard quarreled, and Philip went home with nothing. Richard made a peace with Salah-al-din by offering his sister Johanna in marriage to Salah-al-din's brother. In exchange, Richard obtained a three-year truce, control over a thin strip of the coast between Jaffa and Acre, and the right for Christian pilgrims to travel from Jaffa to Jerusalem. On his way home, however, Richard was captured by Frederick's son, the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, and held until the English paid a huge ransom for his release. [NOTE: This is part of the background to the story of Robin Hood.]

The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) totally discredited the idea of crusading after an alliance of French nobles and Venetian traders sacked the Christian city of Zara (a competitor of Venice) and conquered the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. The Crusaders installed one of their nobles, Baldwin II of Flanders, as the new emperor and he ruled Constantinople until 1261 when it was reconquered by Byzantine forces. After that, there were wars called crusades like the Albigensian Crusade called by Innocent III in 1206 against Christian heretics in southern France, and the so-called Children's Crusade in 1212 led by Nicholas, a young man from Cologne, and Stephen, from the Vendome (whose followers were sold to North African slaver traders after they reached the French port of Marseilles. There was also a Fifth (1218-1221), Sixth (1228-1229), Seventh (1247-1254) and Eighth Crusade (1270), but all they did was make relations worse between Muslims, Byzantine Christians and Roman Christians. In 1274, Pope Gregory X called another crusade, but died before anything could be organized. After that, numerous rulers called local crusades, but there were no more great crusades from western Europe to the Holy Land. For a while, interest in crusading revived after Muslims conquered Constantinople in 1453, but nothing ever came of it.


  1. What clues does this reading offer about the identity of its author?
  2. What kind of booty were the Christians able to seize from the Muslim army? What made these good items to take?
  3. Did women have a role in the First Crusade?
  4. How did the Crusaders behave during the conquest of Jerusalem?
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