While there were many wars in ancient times through today’s era which are religious in nature, the Crusades as defined in class are looked upon as the epitome of the actual Holy Wars that occurred during the ninth through fourteenth centuries. There are five actual Crusades in total, and surprisingly each one had a different purpose in mind. It can be quite confusing when casually studying these individual wars allegedly fought on the behest of Christ, but the ultimate goal is to understand the influence different religions had on different areas of the ancient world. Further, it is also fascinating to examine how the global population would be forcibly converted to the dominant religion of the time and adapt those traditions as each generation evolved from these Holy Wars.
Even though each Crusade had a different meaning and purpose, it ultimately was a show of power to other societies how the Christians, specifically the Pope and Catholic Church, exercised power over their followers from the Pope’s seat in Rome. In summary, it is power that dominated the Crusades as a whole, not a belief system or other elements as suggested by some historians. This power which dictated the everyday lives of the common people could drive them to commit acts that were in direct conflict with the teachings of Christ was what the Catholic Church used to influence individuals to commit horrible acts in the name of God. The paper assigned for this lesson will examine this power, how it was used and/or abused by the church and what the purpose of the Crusades were in the grand scheme of history as a whole.
In order to fully discuss the Crusades in this assignment, it is first imperative to understand the word ‘crusade’ and how it is applied to the group of armed conflicts defined by this term. The word ‘crusade’ actually means a dedicated struggle for or against a set of beliefs an individual or group may hold precious. When reflecting upon the actual meaning of this term, it is fitting for the type of struggle which occurred during the time period these Holy Wars occurred. However, with that said, the question then reverts back to how much of the Crusades were a struggle to defend Christianity and what was actually a power play by the Catholic Church against those religions they considered barbaric such as Islam. The answer to that question is a complicated one, and demonstrates the point made earlier in this essay that the Crusades were not organized and focused as some historians might like the academic world to believe.
Although the actual number of Crusades is in dispute by the academic community, the main ones which are the focus of this paper occurred between the ninth and fourteenth centuries. The consistent conflict and alliance between the Byzantine Empire which eventually became the center of the Christian world and the Abbasids who were Muslims is what initially set the stage for these Holy Wars to occur. In essence, the relationship between the Christian and Muslim empires went from one of peace, tolerance and cooperation to intolerance, suspicion and a struggle for supremacy. The Byzantines spent a great deal of time under the conquering rule of the Abbasids, which in turn was the catalyst for the first crusade when there was a call for the military liberation of churches under Muslim rule. What stands out to this writer as a lack of focus during the First Crusade is that even though it was a call by the Pope to the Byzantines to assist with the growing Muslim threat from Turkey and other parts of the world, there was also a call for anti-Judaism during this period of time? Depending upon one’s point of view, this unleashing of Catholic militant belief and spirit could be defined as an extreme attitude which resulted in the intolerance and eventual extermination of both Jewish and Muslim citizens.
The next steps in the Crusades developed the theory of power struggles with the Catholic Church and its desire to become the dominant spiritual and political force in the known world. Again, it has to be pointed out that the attitude shown by the church during the Crusades is in direct opposition to the original Christian teachings of Jesus. The church and its early Popes saw themselves as the naturally selected leaders placed into their office by God and they had to exercise their power in order to establish dominance in the world. By the time of the second and third crusades, one of the main objectives was to possess the City of Jerusalem, but it was not exclusively for religious purposes. It was commonly thought in the ancient world that the dominant power that possessed Jerusalem would be in control of the known world. The city was seen not only as a place of extreme value spiritually and historically, but also as a political card that was useful in other matters of state to the sect that possessed it. This certainly proves the earlier point that the church viewed these crusades more as a tool to gain power in the ancient world rather than as a fervent cry from a people looking to spread the word of Christ across the globe.
The other crusades during the remaining time period being examined in this paper are merely repetitive of what has already been discussed. There is a legacy of seizing pagan lands and wealth under the guise of religious grounds during the Crusades which historiographically has influenced experts of this time period to conclude that the Catholic Church was setting the stage for the Reformation and other events which led to the splintering of religion across the globe. While this is true, it also led to the intermixing of races and religious practices in areas of the ancient empires such as Turkey and the surrounding area. Constantinople continued to be a city of wealth and cultural influence well into the modern era, and the mixing of ideals from the time of the Crusades contributed a great deal to this. One can say that the city of Constantinople is a mecca of tolerance and acceptance because of how much it has actually intermixed into its culture.
To conclude this examination of the Crusades, the writer would like to end with some of their own conclusions on the arguments presented in this paper. For starters, the idea of a specific body of influence such as the Catholic Church using the Crusades as a tool to achieve specific goals and objectives politically does not seem far-fetched at all. This was occurring before the Crusades with the Byzantines and the Abbasids as well as other great societies, and it has been an active practice of other influential bodies after the Crusades. Historians regard the Crusades in both a positive and negative light, citing that they were the earliest example of how Christianity committed actions in direct conflict with its original teachings. There have been recent statements made regarding the political agenda of the Muslim extremists of today, but upon examining the Crusades one has to wonder if the same cannot be said of Christians as well. Each society has its own set of beliefs, but it does not make it acceptable to forcibly convert others to that value system.