Over the recent posts, we have been examining the Crusades. An era of over 200 years in which Muslim armies moved into Christian held territories, and then the Christian countries reacted by sending troops to regain these areas.
Like all conflicts, the results were death, destruction and chaos. The crusades cost numerous lives, destroyed cities and cultures, and also bankrupt many countries. However, even with these downsides, like other wars, there were benefits and those who profited from them.
One of the most important influences the crusades had was upon the Catholic Church. If you remember from previous post, the crusades were a papal proposition. Pope Urban II had requested troops for the First Crusade, and the popes after him also organized future crusades.
When the soldiers came home from the crusades, seeing the horrors of war, they had become dishearten and disillusioned. A great number of them went to church sponsored retreats and monasteries. In order to remove materialism from their lives, they gave their fortunes to the church.
When the crusaders returned, they brought loot which they had gotten from ransacking cities. Much of this money was given as tides to the church. This input of money gave the church more power and influence over the royalty in Europe.
Although, initially the influence of money helped the church expand its power, in the long term, the crusades harmed them. The word crusades means; “To go to the cross”, this was both a direct meaning, in that the crusaders were heading toward the Middle East, and also a metaphoric meaning, in that it was a Holy War.
The problem with a Holy War is that when it turns sour, such as the crusades did, it puts doubt about those who were the leaders of that crusade. If a Holy War fails, then the leaders, who claimed to be on the side of God, must be wrong and hence not true followers of God. This doubt into the leaders of the crusade, including the church and the infallibility of the pope, help lay the foundation for the Protestant Reformation.
It was the political leaders who were nobles, that helped create the crusades, and it was these crusades that created their downfall. Many of the nobles that went on the crusades never came back. There estates were divided to others. This meant more individuals determining politics in a region, more people making decisions, meaning the lessoning of the feudal system and finally to its destruction.
One of the biggest benefits of the crusades was it helped develop trade. The crusaders went to the Middle East, via certain unknown or little-used trade routes. These crusaders were exposed to new and exciting products, such as spices and fabrics which they had never seen before. After purchasing, or obtaining through ransacking, these items were sent back to Europe. Europeans became enamored with these items, and wanted more. The routes that the crusaders used to go to wars were now used as trade routes, bringing back goods from the Middle East. The armies that once traveled to the Middle East for war now were used for protection of merchants bringing back goods and products.
When there is a trade of goods, there is an exchange of ideas. As I had mentioned in earlier blogs, the Muslim states had maintained and expanded upon the great scientific, mathematic and art of the Greeks. This knowledge had been lost to the Europeans, this information was only controlled by monks; who considered them historical artifacts and not legitimate knowledge for some countered church teachings. Once these ideas had resurfaced in Europe, they led to what we know of as the Renaissance, or the rebirth of knowledge in Europe.
Combine the events above with the plague which I mentioned in an earlier blog post. There were now fewer peasants, who had more land to work. These farmers now used many of the technologies brought from the Middle East. Furthermore, these former peasants found the ability to begin dealing in goods and products, having more than enough for survival, but now for profit. They now gained political power by increasing their wealth and becoming a middle class.
After the crusades, Europe was poised for a change. A transition from the Dark/Middle Ages, where knowledge was stymied and obedience was enforced with an iron fist to the Renaissance. Debate about all topics such as religion, science, medicine and even architecture was beginning. The changes caused by both the plague, and the crusades were seeded into European consciousness and would grow.
I am often fascinated by how the world would look like today, if there were no crusades or the renaissance. This is the premise for my novel, “Legend of the Mystic Knights”; here the world is still stuck in 1100 A.D., and what we know of history has been completely rewritten.
W.A. Rusho is an amateur historian and author; you may read more about him by viewing his website.