January 31, 2005
What Christianity and European Civilization Gained from the Crusade?
The Crusades were launched in 1095 C.E. from the West to save Eastern Christendom (Byzantium) from the
Muslim Rule. When they ended, the whole Christendom was under Muslims.
When Pope Urban II preached his emotive sermon at Clermont, France, calling
on Christian princes in Europe to go on the First Crusade to rescue
the Holy Land (Jerusalem) from the Muslim Turks, Muslims at the time seemed
about to threaten the Bosphorus. Three centuries later, when Pope Pius II
preached the Last Crusade the Turks (Muslims) were crossing the Danube.
Of the last fruits of the movement, Rhodes fell to the Muslims in 1523 CE,
and Cyprus, annexed at last by Venice, passed to them in 1570 CE.
Crusaders? Contact with Muslim Civilization: Before and After
When the Crusaders from the West began their holy mission in 1095 CE to capture
and rule the Byzantine Christian and Muslim lands of the East, the two religions
that the West regarded as hostile by nature, were actually living in a certain
degree of harmony in the East. By the end of the crusades, the entire East
was in tragic conflict, and the followers of each faith were brutally fighting
to subdue each other.
Seen in the perspective of political history, the whole Crusading movement
was a vast fiasco. They made no permanent conquests of Jerusalem. They did
not impede the advance of Islam. Far from aiding the Eastern Empire, they
hastened its disintegration. The almost miraculous success of the First Crusade
at the end of eleventh century set up Frankish states in Outremer; and a century
later, when all seemed lost, the gallant effort of the Third Crusade preserved
them for another hundred years. The tenuous Kingdom of Jerusalem was probably
a tiny outcome from so much energy, enthusiasm, sacrifices, and bloodshed.
Even though the negative memories and effects of the Crusades
by far exceed those of the positive outcomes, it is incredibly significant to
study and highlight the positive changes in the Western civilization, from scientific
progress to higher standards of medical facilities, from development in art
to inventions in agriculture, brought about by the contact of Crusaders with
the Muslim Spain. As Steven Runciman states, ?The era of the Crusades
is one of the most important in the history of Western civilization. When it
began, Western Europe was only emerging from the long period of barbarian invasions
that we call the Dark Ages. When it ended, the great burgeoning that we call
the Renaissance had just begun.? It is these destructive and fruitful
outcomes of the Crusades and the subsequent contact of Western Christendom with
the Muslim Civilization in Spain that this exposition seeks to underline and
5 Nightmares European Christendom & Muslims Lived With
There are five significant immediate and long-term devastating consequences
of the Crusades.
1- The obvious negative outcome of the Crusades was the hardship
and loss of life suffered by the many na?ve, sincere, yet ignorant, Crusaders
themselves, which eventually affected the morale of the Western Christians in
several ways. ?When considering the hardships and deprivations endured
by the armies of Christendom along the many paths to Jerusalem, one can only
marvel at how the crusaders were able to lift a lance or sword, let alone fight
effectively, upon their arrival in the Holy Land.? Most crusaders did
not particularly look forward to Crusades. They disliked leaving home: a theme
in crusade poetry is sadness at the abandonment of loved ones. They dreaded
the journey, especially if it was by sea. Moreover, they were often hungry and
had to forage.
2- The atrocities, disasters, and the immeasurable suffering
that the Crusaders inflicted upon the lands they invaded, cast a heavy shadow
over the relationship between the Muslims and the Western Christendom. From
the beginning the Crusades were characterized by individual deeds of heroism.
As Friedrich Heer elaborates:
Heroic zeal and readiness to face death (as extolled in the Song of Roland)
were at an early date yoke-fellows of a zest for atrocities and disaster.
Consider for example the Crusaders? lust for blood as it was displayed
at the capture of Jerusalem in the First Crusade. Western sources claim the
slaughter of 10,000 Muslims; Arab sources put the figure at 100,000, including
women and children. The impact of this on the Arab world was appalling. The
Muslims had been as unprepared mentally for the Crusades as were the Byzantines
[Eastern Christendom], and it was only now, in reaction, that they learned
to hate the Latin West, and to call the Franks ?Christian dogs.?
The blood-bath of the First Crusade was followed by similar disastrous campaigns.
In 1191 CE, during the Third Crusade, since the negotiations with the Muslim
army leader, Saladin, dragged too long, Richard Coeur de Lion ordered the massacre
of two to three thousand Muslim prisoners. The entrails of the corpses were
searched for hidden gold, which had been swallowed by the prisoners, and the
bodies burned so that the ashes might be sifted for it. Horrified at this atrocity,
the Islamic world became permanently suspicious of the West.
In Spain, King Ferdinand set up a Christian law court throughout
the country where Muslims were often brought on untrue and fabricated charges,
and were burnt to death as punishment enjoined by the law court. A general order
was issued in 1514 CE, to confess Christianity or face death, with the result
that some Muslims escaped to the hills, and others professed Christianity and
were baptized. However, many kept practicing Islam in their homes.
While the First and Third Crusades created, or at least widened, the gap between
the Western Christendom and Islam, it was the Fourth Crusade, in 1204 CE, which
set an unbridgeable gulf between Eastern and Western Christendom. It was in
the Fourth Crusade that the Constantinople was captured and sacked. Even the
fellow Christians of the East were not spared.
More artwork and cultural
treasures were destroyed on this occasion than at any other time throughout
the Middle Ages, not excepting the Turkish conquest of 1453 CE. Villehardouin,
an eyewitness, reported that it was impossible to estimate the amount of gold,
silver, precious stones, silver vessels, silks, furs and rich clothing taken
in the sack.
Interestingly, the Crusades were initially launched by the Pope ?in pursuit
of rescuing the fellow Christians of the East from the rule of the infidels?!
It was a strange rescue; for when the work was over, Eastern Christendom still
lay under the infidel domination. In the areas where Crusaders took charge of
the government, they treated their Christian subjects worse than the rulers
before them. The Frank Crusaders also interfered in the religious practise of
the local churches. When they left the city, they left the local Christians
looted and unprotected to bear the wrath of later conquerors, such as Mongols.
4- Another upshot of the Crusades, or rather of the ill-success
of the Crusading movement and its diversion from its original aim of capturing
the holy lands, was the unleashing of a powerful reaction throughout the Western
Europe; waves of criticism, derision, and indignation swept England, France,
Germany, and Italy. In France, there even grew up a kind of ?counter-crusade?,
supported at times by the queen, the towns, and broad masses of the people:
Jacob, the ?Master from Hungary?, called on the poor and lowly to
go with him to the Holy Land and revolt against the Latin knights, monks, and
5- Similarly, the aftermath of the Crusades gave a sudden rise
to intolerant attitudes among the people of various faiths, especially towards
the heretics and pagans. What used to be known as ?open? Middle
Ages was suddenly transformed into increasingly narrow and constricted later
Middle Ages. What bothered the Franks of the Western Christendom was the fact
that their fellow Christians of the East, Syrian Christians, had for centuries
held high and honourable positions at the courts of the Caliphs and the Muslim
princes, as physicians, scribes, astronomers, interpreters, and officials. Furthermore,
some places of worship were used by both Muslims and Christians. For instance,
at Acre the great mosque had been converted into a church, but a side-chapel
was left free for Muslim worship.
It should also be noted,
the teaching of the Early Church about tolerance was balanced and the Greek
Fathers accommodated the heretics, pagans and people of different faiths within
their Christian society. However, the advent of the Crusades replaced any remnants
of tolerance with hatred, suspicion, and narrow-mindedness among the Christians,
Muslims, and Jews forever.
9 Ways European Christians Benefited from Crusades
With all these diverse destructions, the Crusades also yielded a few advantages
to the European Christians, and to humankind at large. As the First Crusade
was unleashed, Muslims in the East had risen to the enviable status of internationally-reputed
centre of civilization and culture. The interaction of European Crusaders with
the cultural, scientific, and industrial progress of the Muslims brought about
a series of extremely wholesome changes in their individual and collective thought
and behaviour. As W. M. Watt states, ?We sometimes belittle the extent
and importance of the Islamic influence in our heritage, and sometime(s) overlook
it altogether. We must acknowledge our indebtedness to the full. To try to cover
it over and deny it is a mark of false pride.? Nine of these positive
consequences are of significance to the present discussion.
1- While several Christian priests and preachers in the West
spread a strong wave of hatred, misconceptions, and hostility against Muslims,
several Crusaders were touched by the show of hospitality, tolerance and kindness
on the part of some of the Muslim Caliphs (rulers) of North Africa and Spain.
Thus, Crusades allowed thousands of Christians for the first time to learn more
about Islam and the Muslims from first-hand sources.? An estimable glimpse
of such fruitful interaction is portrayed in the following account: Oliverus
Scholasticus relates how the Muslim Sultan al-Malik-al-Kamil supplied a defeated
Frankish army with food:
doubt that such goodness, friendship and charity came from God? Men whose
parents, sons and daughters, brothers and sister had died in agony at our
hands, whose lands we took, whom we drove naked from their homes, revived
us with their own food when we were in their power.
increase in the Christian piety as a result of regular contact with the Holy
Land now was probably the only positive outcome of this catastrophe, from the
moral or ?religious? point of view. The humanity of Jesus was more
personalized and realized, and the veneration of relics became more popular,
as Europe was now flooded with pieces of the True Cross and bones of patriarchs
order to meet the mounting expenses of crusades the big Christian feudal lords
of France and Italy had to sell their estates. This brought Europe?s most
deadly feudal structure to a virtual collapse. The life of peasants improved,
and serfs could buy their freedom. In addition, this measure served as a valuable
tool in transforming the European governments. As a result, many European rulers
got rid of the pressures of the insurgences of their erstwhile mighty feudal
barons. This led to emergence of strong, centralized and stable governments.
It is also significant to
emphasize the role that the great city Constantinople played in shaping the
future political system of the West. ?Constantinople has also justly been
described as the ?medieval Versailles?, providing the model for
all other emperors, kings, and princes, the pattern for the conduct of court
life and politics throughout the West.?
4- On the termination of the Crusades, when trade and commercial
relations between the Muslims and the European Christendom grew, the commerce
and industry in Europe registered unusual progress. The new level of economic
activity also changed the European and Christian attitudes towards wealth. For
instance, for the first time, coined money became more common in Europe by 1200
CE. Furthermore, Italian merchants established banks, and provided for Bills
of Exchange. This increase in trade, for instance, led Crusaders to discover
and bring back new spices from the East, which allowed the food to last longer
and taste better. Not only that, the Europeans now got fine cloths manufactured
in the Middle East. Even though there may have been other factors to contribute
to this exponential growth in commerce, Crusades certainly did play a major
role in facilitating the European economy.
5- Perhaps it was in the field of education and literature
that the Christian-Muslim interaction, during the period of Crusades and after,
produced most fruitful and long-lasting results. It was the Muslims? great
fondness for the arts, literature and philosophy that opened doors of art and
science for the Europeans. For eight hundred years the Christian nobles in Spain
took pride in learning from the Muslims, in language, style, and expression.
During their rule in Spain, the Muslims established all over the country universities,
schools, laboratories and magnificent libraries, which contained resources for
academic research of all kinds. In the universities of Cordova, Seville, Malaga,
Lisbon, Jaen, and Toledo students from Italy, France, Germany, and England would
come to receive education in various sciences and arts. In fact, manufacturing
paper out of cotton and jute was one of their most remarkable achievements,
which contributed tremendously to the spread of literacy in later Western Civilization.
The Muslim scholars also translated books on Greek philosophy into their own
languages. F. Heer further elaborates:
from the example of Toledo Cosmopolitan (under the Muslim rule from 712 CE
to 1085 CE) that Europe first learnt to understand that learning knows no
frontiers, that it is universal, global, and ?human?, that it
concerns mankind as a whole, without respect of race and religion. At Toledo
Arabs, Jews, and Greeks worked with Spaniards, Frenchmen and Germans, and
last, but not least, with Englishmen.
in the field of theology and philosophy, renewed contact with the Muslim world
had far-reaching benefits for the European Civilization. In Cordova some of
the greatest Jewish and Muslim philosophers of the Middle Ages were born, such
as Maimonides and Averroes. Averroes (Ibn Rushd), who was a Muslim scientist
and theologian, played a major role in reviving the philosophy of antiquity.
He was known as ?The Commentator? because of his commentaries on
Aristotle, which were widely read and distributed. When the works of these philosophers
in Spain were introduced into the Western Europe in the thirteenth century,
they gave rise to an intense theological and philosophical activity.
7- In terms of modern methods of warfare, the Muslim Spain
was also far superior. For instance it was the Muslims of Spain who first invented
the tools for dismantling forts. In fact, the accounts of some Crusaders clearly
indicate that the Crusaders were not aware of the artillery and gunpowder used
by the Muslim armies, and that the Crusaders acquired the methods of producing
them from the Muslims. Alfonso XI states: ?Muslims of the city would hurl
resounding objects and apple-sized iron shells. These shells covered such a
long distance that they hit the enemy ranks directly and at times fell beyond
8- Another obvious refreshing impact of the confrontation between
the Eastern and Western Christendom was on Europe?s architecture. Consequently,
the structure of the European buildings, raised after or during the time of
the Crusades, began to reflect the many a charming and elegant facet of the
Constantinople and Arab architectural styles. For instance, the Muslims of Spain
invented a cement of such a remarkable quality to build Al-Hamra Palace, which
still remains an object of wonder for the tourists of the world.
9- The discussion of positive results of the East-West interaction
cannot be complete without highlighting the contribution of Muslim Spain to
the field of agriculture and gardening. The rulers of Spain developed agriculture
to the extent that it became a perfected art. They turned hundreds of thousands
of square miles of barren and deserted land in Spain into magnificent gardens
of fruits, trees, and greenery. Spain and the entire European continent came
to know of rice, cotton, saffron, pomegranate, and peach through these gardens.
They also produced unique olives and dates in Andalusia. Europe was introduced
to several sophisticated and unknown gardening and farming techniques through
the written accounts and experiences of Arab farmers, which later served to
develop the science of Botany in Europe.
Shift in Civilization
Despite all forms of devastation
and hostility brought about by the Crusades, they proved to be a blend of vices
and virtues for Christianity and for the humanity in general. Some of these
losses and benefits have had short-term effects on Christianity. However, most
of the consequences of the Crusades were far-reaching and permanent, especially
the material benefits gained by the Latin Christendom from the Byzantium and
the Islamic civilization. From political and historical standpoint, the Crusading
movement was an immense failure, and contributed nothing other than massacres,
atrocities, and insecurity to humanity. Neither were the Crusaders able to ?rescue?
the fellow Christians of the East from tyrannical rules of the infidels, nor
were they able to produce a unique sustainable civilization of their own. However,
their civilization did change for the better, and forever, in ways unimaginable,
due to their interaction with the civilizations of Constantinople and Spain.
Indeed, ?when they began, the main seats of civilisation were in the East,
at Constantinople and at Cairo. When they ended, civilisation had moved its
headquarters to Italy and the young countries of the West.
 Steven Runciman, A
History of the Crusades, Vol. III (London: Cambridge University Press, 1994),
 Earle Rice, Jr., Life During the Crusades, (San Diego, CA: Lucent Books
Inc., 1998), p. 50.
 Friedrich Heer, The Medieval World Europe 1100-1350, (London: Weidenfeld
& Nicolson Ltd., 1993), p. 104.
 Akbar S. Najeebabadi, The History of Islam, Vol. 3 (Brooklyn, New York:
Dar-us-Salam Publishing House, 2001), p. 218.
 Heer, The Medieval World Europe, p. 105.
 Heer, The Medieval World Europe, p. 109.
 Heer, The Medieval World Europe, p. 112.
 W. Montgomery Watt, The Influence of Islam in Medieval Europe, (England:
Edinburgh University Press, 1972), pp. 1-2.
 Heer, The Medieval World Europe, p. 112.
 Heer, The Medieval World Europe, p. 100.
 Najeebabadi, The History of Islam, 3:220.
 Heer, The Medieval World Europe, p. 194.
 Najeebabadi, The History of Islam, 3:220.
 Najeebabadi, The History of Islam, 3:219.
 Runciman, A History of the Crusades, 3:394.