Undoubtedly, The Crusades are a dark chapter in human history; a chapter full of religious violence and objectification of the enemy, signaling as an other that had to be destroyed and purged. From a historical perspective, Pope Urban, the Christian leader, focused the campaign from a religious standpoint, making it look like a religious objective whereas the Muslims, represented by Ibn al-Athīr perceived the Crusades as a brutal attempt of conquering their lands that massacred its people.
Therefore, the arguments Pope Urban II used in his speech were mostly focused in eliciting a sense of religious unity against the threat of the barbarians, a rhetoric figure used since the times of the Roman Empire. Consequently, by calling Western Europeans to fight for “[their] brethren who live in the east are in urgent need of your help, and you must hasten to give them the aid which has often been promised them” (Thatcher 516), Urban is attempting to repair the religious cohesion Christianity had lost in the Great Schism, as well as gathering power and influence by meddling in a dispute that was initially an incident within the Byzantine Empire.

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On the other hand, Ibn al-Athīr’s description of the conflict is by far more local, showing how Christians were the ones who began the conflict under religious pretenses, but revealing an ulterior political motive of an offensive against Islam, and then expanding on the situation during the Christian attacks in the East. To Al Athīr, Christian armies succeeded in their objective of conquering Jerusalem because of the lack of unity of the Muslim forces, the Turks, and the Egyptians, who had their own doctrinal differences, being respectively from Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam. Hence, according to Al Athīr “When the Franks defeated the Turks at Antioch and made slaughter amongst them, the power of the Turks weakened, and they lost cohesion (Richards 21).” This helped the Egyptians seizing Jerusalem, reducing the city and aiding the Crusaders.

Ultimately, both recounts reveal different perspectives on the Crusaders; one of religious motives and another where not a religion but politics is the driving force behind the war effort. Pope Urban’s motives might have been heavenly, yet the earthly means of achieving them resulted in massacres, death, and starvation in a world that was slowly recovering from centuries of hardships and was ready to blossom once again.

  • Richards, D. S., ed. The Chronicle of Ibn Al-Athīr for the Crusading Period from Al-Kāmil Fīʼl-taʼrīkh. the Coming of the Franks and the Muslim Response. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, ., 2006. Print.
  • Thatcher, O. J., ed. Source Book for Medieval History. New York: Scribner, 1907. Print.