Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Crusades: Warfare at its worse, except for today.

In our recent posts, we have been looking at the misconceptions dealing with the crusades. Today, we will be moving away from the misconceptions and speak about something true; the horror of war during the crusades.

Before we begin, we must remember never to look back into history and apply our own feelings and prejudices onto the people who lived during this time. War is a horrible act between people; it has always been and will always be. Even in our modern society, war and its brutality still plague this world.

We must also remember the time frame they were held and who conducted them. When the crusades occurred, most of the western world was still in the Medieval Period. I often write about how dangerous these periods were to the people who lived during those times. Death and hardship was always a common companion to these people; when there is a possibility of you dying at a moment’s notice, due to injury, disease or execution; death seems to become easily accepted. 

We must keep in mind is that it was constantly instilled into people that those who are not like you, are less than human. For generations, divisions of people waged war upon others who were different; we still see that today. Brutality breeds brutality, especially when you perceive the other person as being less human then you are.

Although the battles during the crusades were horrific, the total casualties were greater and less than in other times. One of the most famous battles during this time was the Battle of Yarmouk. Actually, this was technically before the crusades, and was an incursion of the Muslim armies into the Byzantine Empire which helped cause the crusades. The totality of participants fighting were 8,500, and casualties were numbered at 2,875.

Another famous battle was the siege at Jerusalem.  It occurred in 1099, what is referred to as the First Crusade. Here over 40,000 were killed, including civilian casualties.

Now let us look at the total figures of the crusades; it was estimated 1.5 – 3 million were killed during the period of the crusades which was from 1095-1291. Remember, this time frame encompasses almost a 200 year span.

Compare this to some more modern figures:

Current Deaths by HIV yearly:  1.7 Million

Soviet Afghan War (1980-1988) 600k-2 million.

World War I (1914-1918) 15 Million

World War II (1938-1945) 40-70 Million, including estimated 6 million Jews exterminated by the Nazis.
Burundi Civil War and Genocide, 200,000-300,00 killed.
Rwanda Genocide- 500,000 - over 1 million.
Cambodian Genocide- Over 2 million.
Stalin's Purge in the Soviet Union- 6 million.
So called "Mao's Leap Forward"- 45 million.
These figures come from a culture perceived more “civilized” than their medieval ancestors.
We can attribute some of the above figures to the point of more people involved in modern warfare, but examine some of the crusades and compare them to pre-modern battles and events.

If you remember a recent post about the Black Death, the count for this was 75-200 million, within 4 year time span.

Siege of Bagdad (1258) by the invading Mongol Army, an estimated 250,000 – 2.1 Million were killed, including civilians.

Let us look into even a more distant past. During the time of the Roman Empire, there were two major sieges on Jerusalem.  In 70 A.D. over 60, 000-70,000 were killed in this battle when the future emperor Titus conquered the city. During the Roman-Persian Wars (aka Byzantine-Sasanian War), a force consisting of Jewish and Persian soldiers attacked Jerusalem; when the city fell (614 A.D.), a massacre of the inhabitants followed and 60,000 – 70,000 were killed.

We also must remember that the crusades were not merely attacks into the Middle East against Muslim Countries, it occurred in Europe and against all nationality, religions and sects. I recently mentioned the Peasant’s Crusade (aka People’s Crusade) in a previous blog. This crusade, although was not authorized by the Pope or the Catholic Church, was conceived by the organizers to do the bidding of the church in freeing the world from what they perceived as threats to Christianity.

In 1096 Germany, over 40,000 people gathered and were led by Peter the Hermit. Their goal was to drive the non-Christians from the Holy Lands. This may have been the group’s initial motivation, but it soon changed, and they attacked anyone they perceived as threats to Christianity on the way. They thought why should they travel to the Middle East, when they could drive the Jews out of their home countries (at the time, Jews were considered to be more of a threat than the Muslims).

The Peasant Crusade was nothing more than a mass of people moving from one area to another across Europe, attacking those who were perceived as not Christians. Before it was all over, an estimated 2,000 – 12,000 Jews were attacked and killed by the mob of crusaders. These attacks cumulated in what is referred to as the Rhineland Massacre.

It was not just Jews who ended up as victims of the crusades in Europe. The Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) was specifically designed to remove the Cathars from France. The Cathars beliefs varied from region to region, but their main belief was there were two Gods; a good merciful God of the New Testament and an evil vengeful God of the Old Testament.

This attack on the Cathars cumulated in the destruction of the town of B├ęziers in 1209 led by the Abbot Arnaud Amalric. The town comprised of both Catholics and Cathars; the attackers requested that the Catholic resident’s leave the city under their full protection. These residents refused; instead, they decided to stand with their Cathar neighbors.

When the battle ended, every man, woman and child in the town were slaughtered (estimated 15,000 – 20,000) and every building burnt to the ground. When soldiers questioned if it was right to kill fellow Catholics, Arnaud Amalric responded; "Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own”, this was basically the origin of the phrase “Kill them all and let God sort them out”.

Although they were brutal, the crusades were not as harsh, compared to other times in the history of the human race. We also have seen that these crusades were not only to drive the Muslim armies from the Holy Lands, but were directed at any people who were perceived different.

Next time:  We will review the benefits of the Crusades.

W.A.Rusho is the author of the medieval fantasy novel "Legend of the Mystic Knights".


  1. It's sad that all these battles continue to take place, just in different ways. The loss of life is stunning. I read "D-Day, The Battle for Normandy" last year and had to read in small snippets because of the citing of the number of dead from this battle and that.

  2. I truly appreciate these posts. I have such a broad stroke type of view of so many parts of history. It's nice to be able to dig in more on a weekly basis.

  3. All of these fatalities due to religion and yet not a single one of these religions really endorses or suggests the application of such brutality. It is, as you say, simply a matter of people who are different. While the Crusades were about religion we see both historically and now some of the same behavior toward people who are different because of race, class or ethnicity.

  4. It takes your breath away when you look at the numbers all in one place, and to think so many people were killed simply for their beliefs or just being different in some way. But, as others have mentioned, we're all painfully aware that even in our modern "civilized" world there are parts of the world where death and cruelty are still commonplace.

  5. Thanks for this post - you do us all a favour by writing about past history - the good and the bad. This is stuff we need to either learn or be reminded of.
    I find it amazing how many wars have been fought because of religion yet they all seem to leave out one big factor: "For the greatest of these is love". Doesn't say anywhere that this applies only to the like-minded. Thanks William.

  6. According to Wikipedia ('s_Crusade), the People's Crusade did at least get a comeuppance of sorts, i.e., it did in fact go to Asia Minor but was subsequently wiped out by the Turks.

    1. This is why many think the tale of the Children's Crusade was actually based on this.