Guide Crusader

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Episode 4: The Crusader

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Local Station: Choose Station. These two aims were repeated throughout the history of crusading. There were, by contrast, very few occasions when churchmen encouraged crusaders to think of material gain. The official line, at least, was that crusaders were expected to comport themselves humbly and expect their reward in the next world rather than on earth. Yet throughout its history, crusading was founded on doublethink. In the decades before the crusades began, several western writers noted that Christian warriors thought about their personal wealth at least as much as their spiritual health.

Eleventh-century kings who conquered lands from Muslim rulers in Spain used their war spoils to make large donations to the Cluniac monastic order. The instinct to combine profit with piety predated crusading, and when the church decided to institutionalise war on non-Christians, it survived intact.

Of course, not all crusaders got rich. Many who joined the First Crusade were maimed, killed or bankrupted themselves due to the expense of the journey.


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Yet there were a significant number of others who did very well out of the enterprise. When the first crusaders entered Jerusalem in July and put the city to the sword, one of the Norman leaders, Tancred of Hauteville, sent his personal bodyguards to the Haram al-Sharif Temple Mount , where they spent two days relieving the shrine of the Dome of the Rock known by the crusaders as the Temple of the Lord of its most precious ornaments. The crusaders in put that firmly out of their minds.

From this point on, the possibility of financial reward remained one of several strong motivators for crusaders.


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In —11 the first king to travel from Europe on crusade was Sigurd I of Norway. When Sigurd left the Holy Land, his ships were laden with so much treasure that they displayed it on their masts and sails, where it caught the light to dazzling effect. Many more followed suit. In the aftermath of , four crusader states were established along the Palestinian and Syrian coast: the kingdom of Jerusalem, the counties of Edessa and Tripoli and the principality of Antioch. They offered estates to be farmed, villages to be taxed, port cities to be developed and merchant routes connecting the Mediterranean world with the faraway markets of India and China.

Very quickl. They made a beeline to the east to carve out their own roles in this exciting new world, establishing lordships, bishoprics and trading stations. Prominent in this were the three great trading cities of northern Italy: Genoa, Pisa and Venice. All three possessed significant naval power, which they could lend to crusader campaigns to conquer or defend coastal cities in the east, such as Acre, Tyre and Beirut. They were keen to establish their reputations as prominent members of the Christian world. And they each knew that if they engaged with crusading, they would be rewarded not only with the forgiveness of sins promised by successive popes, but also in economic terms.

Few episodes illustrate this more effectively than the siege of Tyre — a stoutly defended city in modern Lebanon — which took place in More than Venetian ships, commanded by the doge [duke] of Venice, Domenico Michiel, sailed to the east to take part in the siege. Tyre would remain in Christian hands for more than years, and during that time the republic of Venice profited handsomely.

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This was by no means unique. In every major city up and down the coast, Italian merchant colonies were a familiar sight, their willingness to pour investment into the crusading cause amply and visibly rewarded. The most notorious example of this, perhaps, occurred in the Fourth Crusade of —04 and once again involved the republic of Venice. The citizens of Venice agreed to build — at great cost — a massive fleet to transport the armies of the Fourth Crusade to Egypt, where they planned to conquer the wealthy city of Alexandria.

In the end, however, the crusading fleet diverted to the Christian cities of Zara modern Zadar and Constantinople. Both of these were treated savagely, and Constantinople was pillaged, to the disgrace of Christendom but the lavish profit of Venice. Venice was hardly a lone villain. It was very often muttered that, far from being poor knights of Christ, the members of these orders enjoyed lives of great wealth and comfort, thanks to their broad-ranging tax exemptions and the lavish donations they received from their supporters.

enter In a sense, this was quite true. The Teutonic knights profited handsomely from their deployment around the Baltic, where they fought a perpetual crusade to clear pagans from the land and claim it for themselves and other Christian settlers. The Templars, meanwhile, were brought down in —12, in part because of the sheer envy that their vast wealth aroused in the mind of the French king Philip IV.

It is important to reiterate that not everyone who went on crusade during the Middle Ages came home rich. Many lost everything, including their lives. At the same time, few crusaders were motivated solely by one factor. Yet in the cocktail of reasons for crusading often lay a base but timeless human instinct: the desire to get rich quick.

DNA suggests Crusaders intermarried with local people, and their sons also fought.

Sigurd was given a fragment of the True Cross to take back to Norway, and he also shared in the vast amount of booty taken when his men helped wrest the city of Sidon from Muslim rule. Although John of Gaunt was born long after the kingdom of Jerusalem was destroyed in , the uncle of Richard II of England still considered himself a crusader. He managed to have his campaign to claim the crown of Castile in —87 classified as a crusade.

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