The Crusade

The Crusade was a series of military campaigns sanctioned by the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. These campaigns were aimed at reclaiming the Holy Land from Muslim control.

The Crusades had a significant impact on European history, leading to cultural exchanges, economic growth, and the spread of ideas. However, they also resulted in violence, religious intolerance, and the loss of countless lives.

The Crusade Facts For Kids

  • The Crusades were religious wars from 1096-1291.
  • Crusaders were Christians fighting to control holy sites.
  • Jerusalem was the main target of the First Crusade.
  • There were 8 major Crusades and some smaller ones.
  • Crusaders wore crosses, showing their Christian faith.
  • Richard the Lionheart was a famous Crusader king.
  • Crusades opened up trade routes, impacting the economy.
  • The Fourth Crusade sacked the Christian city, of Constantinople.
  • Many Crusaders never reached the Holy Land.
  • The Crusades led to cultural exchange and conflict.

Jerusalem in the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, a series of religious wars known as the Crusades saw European Christians striving to seize control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslims. The city held significant religious sites cherished by both faiths, making it a focal point of the conflict.

The onset of the first Crusade in 1095 was prompted by Pope Urban II’s plea for Christians to aid the Byzantine Empire, which was under threat from Muslim Turks. This eventually culminated in the capture of Jerusalem in 1099. Yet, maintaining control over Jerusalem proved challenging, leading to the city changing hands numerous times throughout the Crusades.

By the conclusion of the final Crusade in 1291, Muslims had successfully reclaimed Jerusalem. The profound influence of these wars extended beyond the battlefield, shaping the course of the Middle Ages and significantly impacting the evolution of both European and Middle Eastern cultures and religions.

The Knights Templar

The Knights Templar, a notable group of warrior monks, was established around 1119 AD and played a crucial role in the Crusades, a series of religious wars during the Middle Ages. Recognizable by their unique white mantles featuring a red cross, these knights committed to vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Their primary responsibility was safeguarding Christian pilgrims on their journey to the Holy Land. Over the years, the Knights Templar evolved into a potent military and fiscal entity.

Despite their subsequent downfall, the enduring legend of these knights continues to captivate people’s interest today, making them an intriguing aspect of Crusade history for children to study.

The Knights Hospitaller

During the Crusades, a period of religious wars between Christians and Muslims in the Middle Ages, the Knights Hospitaller emerged as a distinctive group of soldiers. Initially established in Jerusalem around 1023, this group, also referred to as the Order of St. John, was tasked with providing care for the poor, sick, or injured pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land.

However, their role evolved over time as they became a military order, charged with the defense of Christian territories in the East. Dressed in distinctive black robes adorned with a white cross as a sign of their Christian devotion, their bravery and commitment played a crucial role in numerous Crusades battles.

The Knights Hospitaller remained even after the Crusades, transitioning into what is known today as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.


Saladin, born in 1137 and renowned as the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, is an influential figure when discussing the Crusades with children. Not only was he a distinguished Muslim leader during the Crusades, but his paramount leadership during the Third Crusade set him apart.

Saladin is best remembered for his recapture of the holy city of Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187, a significant event that instigated the Third Crusade. Despite the ongoing conflict with the Crusaders, he was revered for his military prowess, chivalry, and fairness.

His humane treatment of war prisoners was testament to his character, earning him respect from allies and adversaries alike.

The Byzantine Empire

During the medieval period, the Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, found itself entangled in the Crusades, a series of religious wars primarily between European Christians and Middle Eastern Muslims.

The conflict was sparked in 1096 when Byzantine Emperor Alexius I sought Western Europe’s assistance to repel Turkish invaders from his realm, marking the inception of the Crusades. Initially, the Crusaders assisted the Byzantine Empire in regaining some of their lost territories, but over time, relations between the two sides deteriorated.

The Byzantine Empire’s power was severely diminished as a result of the Crusades, with the Fourth Crusade in 1204 culminating in the sack of Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire’s capital, by Western Crusaders. This pivotal event significantly weakened the Byzantine Empire, from which it never fully recovered.

Papacy in the Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, the Pope, the figurehead of the Catholic Church, had a profound influence, particularly during the Crusades. Pope Urban II was notably instrumental in triggering the First Crusade in 1095 when he rallied Christians to aid in the retrieval of the Holy Land, Jerusalem, from Muslim dominion.

The Pope was in charge of assembling and deploying armies, often enticing them with the promise of sins forgiveness, and a guaranteed place in heaven, which led to an influx of participants in the Crusades.

This involvement of the Papacy in the Crusades underscored its considerable power and influence during the Middle Ages and played a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory of European and Middle Eastern history.

Medieval European Politics

In the Medieval era, the Crusades emerged as a pivotal aspect of European politics, shaping the geopolitical landscape extensively from the 11th to the 15th century. These religious wars, waged between Christians and Muslims, were instigated with the central aim of asserting control over the Holy Land, a region of immense religious significance in the Middle East, for both factions.

Driven by their ambition to extend their political dominion and influence, European Christian leaders exhorted these wars. Numerous monarchs and noblemen from various European kingdoms engaged in these conflicts, eyeing the prospects of accruing wealth, and land, and elevating their societal status.

The Crusades had far-reaching implications on Europe’s political terrain, contributing to the rise and downfall of numerous kingdoms and significantly shaping the evolutionary trajectory of contemporary European nations.

Christian-Muslim Relations

Spanning from 1095 until the 15th century, the Crusades significantly influenced Christian-Muslim relations. These historical events, characterized by religious wars, saw Christians from Europe striving to reclaim Jerusalem and other Middle Eastern holy lands under Muslim control.

The Crusades not only introduced enduring tensions and conflicts but also fostered periods of trade, cultural exchange, and intellectual growth. Despite their influence, it’s crucial to understand that these past events do not dictate contemporary interactions and coexistence between Christians and Muslims.

The relationship between these two religious groups today transcends the centuries-old impacts of the Crusades.

The Reconquista

The Reconquista, a key facet of the Crusades, occurred in the Iberian Peninsula, modern-day Spain and Portugal, and spanned nearly eight centuries from the 8th to the 15th century. Predominantly a series of wars and battles, it was motivated by the desire to reclaim territories seized by Muslim invaders.

This historical period was marked by the leadership of Christian monarchs from Spain and Portugal who spearheaded their armies in conflict against the Muslim Moors. The significance of the Reconquista is underscored by its role in the formation of major European countries, including the Kingdom of Spain.

The culmination of the Reconquista in 1492 coincided with Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America, marking a pivotal year in history.

Medieval Military Orders

During the Crusades, Medieval Military Orders were instituted comprising groups of knights who swore religious vows to defend Christian territories and combat non-Christians. The Knights Templar, Knights Hospitaller, and Teutonic Knights were the most notable among these orders.

The Templars’ devotion to the Christian cause was symbolically represented by their white mantles adorned with a red cross. The Hospitallers offered medical aid to pilgrims and crusaders, whereas the Teutonic Knights were instrumental in the Christianization of the Baltics. These orders were the linchpin of the Crusades, fusing military might with religious zeal.

First Crusade

Initiated by Pope Urban II in 1095, the First Crusade aimed to reclaim Jerusalem, the Holy Land, from the Seljuk Turks who had taken control from the Byzantines. The crusaders, predominantly French knights and non-combatants, embarked on the grueling journey across both land and sea, enduring numerous hardships. Despite these challenges, they triumphantly seized Jerusalem in 1099. This crusade, the first of many over a 200-year period, also led to the creation of the Crusader States in the Middle East, protected by the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller. The First Crusade’s long-term effects included Western European expansion and a deepening schism between Christianity and Islam.

Second Crusade

The Second Crusade, occurring from 1147 to 1149, stands as a pivotal chapter in the history of the Crusades, the medieval religious conflicts waged between Christians and Muslims. Its inception was a reaction to the 1144 Muslim takeover of the County of Edessa, a Crusader state. Spearheaded by European monarchs, Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany, the crusade, however, culminated in defeat, undermined by logistical problems, leadership disputes, and robust Muslim opposition. This crusade carries historical significance as the first to receive formal church endorsement for military endeavors in defense of Christianity, a precedent that informed future Crusades. Moreover, it witnessed the rise of influential military orders, such as the Knights Templar, who became instrumental in subsequent Crusades.

Third Crusade

Initiated in response to the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s defeat by Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria, in the Battle of Hattin in 1187, the Third Crusade, which spanned from 1189 to 1192, was marked by the involvement of some of the era’s most notable leaders. These included King Richard the Lionheart of England, King Philip II of France, and Frederick I Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor. Despite their combined efforts, they were unable to recapture Jerusalem. However, the Crusade culminated in the Treaty of Jaffa in 1192, which secured safe passage for Christians to the holy city. The Third Crusade is frequently characterized by the intense competition between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, both of whom are celebrated as chivalrous leaders despite the brutality of their conflict.

Fourth Crusade

Taking place between 1202 and 1204, the Fourth Crusade is renowned for deviating from its original objective. Initially, the crusaders had planned to invade Egypt to eventually conquer Jerusalem, which was under Muslim control. However, under the influence of the Doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo, who had his own political and economic agenda, they attacked Constantinople, the Christian capital of the Byzantine Empire. This unexpected shift in the crusade’s course led to the siege and subsequent plunder of Constantinople, causing a profound and enduring divide between the Eastern and Western Christian churches. Therefore, the Fourth Crusade’s diversion from its initial plan marked a significant milestone in the history of the Crusades.

Albigensian Crusade

The Albigensian Crusade, a significant crusade from 1209 to 1229, uniquely targeted the Cathar religious sect in southern France rather than attempting to reclaim the Holy Land from Muslims. The Catholic Church deemed the Cathars as heretics due to their dualist beliefs, which greatly differed from the Church’s orthodox teachings. Pope Innocent III launched the crusade, a milestone moment in papal power as it was the papacy’s first initiated and supervised crusade. The crusade, characterized by its extreme violence and brutality, led to the near extermination of the Cathars and a substantial loss of life in Languedoc and Provence. The Albigensian Crusade also marked the inception of the Inquisition and paved the way for future crusades against heretical groups within Europe.

Children’s Crusade

The Children’s Crusade, a unique event in the history of the Crusades, unfolded in 1212 and was primarily led by children from France and Germany. This crusade deviated from the norm as it was not authorized by the Church and was characterized by its peaceful intention to convert Muslims in the Holy Land, unlike the typical military conquests of previous crusades. The child crusaders held the belief that their pure innocence would secure God’s favor in their mission, where adults had previously failed. However, this crusade tragically concluded with thousands of children either lost, succumbing to severe conditions, or being sold into slavery. Despite its devastating conclusion, the Children’s Crusade remains a powerful symbol of the intense religious zeal of the Middle Ages.

Protecting Faith: The Shifting Tides of Jerusalem’s Religious Importance

With the adoption of Christianity throughout Europe came the importance of protecting the religion itself, and the center of faith for followers of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam was the city of Jerusalem, located in the area known as Palestine. Jerusalem fell out of Christian control and became ruled by Arab invaders during the Early Middle Ages, but many religions (including Christianity) were not frowned upon by Jerusalem’s new rulers.

However, when control of the city shifted to the Turks in the eleventh century, Christianity and Judaism were persecuted. The city of Jerusalem was no longer a religious center for these two groups.


Knights of the Temple

The Church, in its way, decided to take action, feeling it a duty to protect its holy city. It encouraged the leaders and people of Europe to take back the city, and in 1096 the First Crusade began, lasting until 1099. Religion and military force became very mixed up, and several groups or “orders” were formed during this time in history. These orders were made up of knights who believed in the cause of protecting the Holy Lands, and included The Knights of the Temple (also known as The Templars), The Knights of St. John, and the Order of Saint Mary of the Teutons (or The Teutonic Knights).

Crusading Orders: United by Purpose, Divided by Disputes

Each order had a different way of seeing things, despite sharing a common goal. Some took vows or promises to help Christian pilgrims, while others took vows of poverty (remaining poor) as a sign of devotion to their cause. However, among these orders, fighting was common, and this arguing between Crusaders often proved to be the cause of many problems. Rather than taking back Jerusalem, they seemed to be competing with each other.

Crusades: Dreams of Glory and the Challenges of Conquest

Both peasants and knights joined the Crusades, each with different reasons for going. Some clearly felt that it was the right thing to do and wanted to return Jerusalem to its earlier state, making it safe for Christians to worship there. Others liked the idea of getting rich, finding new lands, and adventuring. However, the Crusades time and time again were unsuccessful. Cities in Palestine were captured and retaken by both sides, and this process happened over and over throughout the centuries.

It did not help that the Crusaders faced for some time a very powerful leader named Saladin the Great, who had already captured Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. Some kings, such as Richard I (also known as Richard the Lionheart) saw Saladin as a challenge, but despite repeated attempts to retake Jerusalem, the most that Richard the Lionhearted achieved was a treaty (or agreement) with Saladin.

Crusades Unleashed: Epic Quests for the Holy Lands

Over the years, popes called for further attempts to take back the Holy Lands. In total, there were nine of these journeys, some led by royals and some by common people. To give you an idea of the scope of the Crusades, consider just how many there were and how often they took place, usually in poor conditions and with equally poor results: First Crusade (1096-1099), Second Crusade (1144-1155), Third Crusade (1187-1192), Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), Fifth Crusade (1217-1221), Sixth Crusade (1228-1229), Seventh Crusade (1248-1254), Eighth Crusade (1270), and finally, the Ninth Crusade (1271-1272).

As you can see, some of these journeys to take back Jerusalem lasted much longer than others, and later voyages had as many political reasons as they did religious. Taking back Jerusalem not only meant winning a victory for Christianity, but it also meant governing an important area of land and the wealth tied to it.

Crusades: Lessons from the Past and Unexpected Discoveries

In the end, the Crusades were unsuccessful. Rather than winning back Jerusalem, they ended up causing the deaths of many who went on such trips. However, they did bring about contact with the East, and education benefited from Arabic materials acquired during this time period, which were translated into Latin and improved Europe’s knowledge of many subjects.

Technological advancements were made as well, such as the development of the compass (leading to better maps) and weapons like the crossbow. As we have talked about before, with history, there are always ups and downs.