I begin with the words of historian Thomas Madden whose very important volume The New Concise History of the Crusades needs to be in the library of all those concerned about this topic. He begins his incisive study by saying, “The crusades are today one of the most misunderstood events in western history. That fact is all the more lamentable given that in the last fifty years legions of scholars from around the world have produced an enormous amount of research on the subject.”
With this in mind, let me offer a few historical details. There were seven major Crusades, beginning in 1095 when Pope Urban II called the first Crusade. The crowd responded to this with the words, “God wills it!”. In July 1099, after a bloody battle, they took Jerusalem. This may have been the only “successful” Crusade. The final crusade finished in 1291.
Looked at one way, the Crusades were simply the reaction of the Christian West to more than three centuries of Islamic expansion, mistreatment of Christian populations in the Holy Lands, and harassment of religious pilgrims. Islam was on the offensive, and the Christian West needed to respond.
Indeed, for the first 100 years Islamic expansionism showed no signs of being halted. Muhammad died in 632 and in the next century his followers broke out of their small enclave to take over much of surrounding territory. In the first few decades Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Persia had been conquered, and at the time of the battle of Tours in 732 Islamic expansionism extended from Spain to Persia.
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