Warrior Culture : Crusaders

The Crusades were taken up by thousands, only a small portion of those anointed by the church. And yet these Militant Orders of the church have left us with a lasting impression, more so than the many thousands of knights soldiers and priests that surrounded them.The three main Orders of the church that shaped the Holy Lands were the the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (Knights Templar), the Order of the Knights of Saint John (Knights Hospitaller) and the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem (Teutonic Knights).

They were Militant Orders within the church and opperated extensively during the Crusades. These Knights often surrendered their rights of inheritance, and all earthly property to the church in order to become Warrior Priests and Warrior Monks respectively. Now as clostered Soldiers of Christ they advanced on the Holy Lands.

Each Order was given specific mandates at their inceptions by the Pope, and each approached these differently than the rest. However one duty they all held in common was to protect pilgrims along the long path from Europe to the Holy Sights. Protection was nessisary along the roads as bandits (both Christian and Muslim) plagued the region, and because local tribes and territories (generally Muslim) would also raid Pilgrim Caravans.

A common misconception about the Crusades is that they were Imperialistic Expansions on behalf of the church. Where in reality it was a liberating movement, freeing many previously conquered Christian lands and kingdoms conquered generations earlier during Islam’s initial expansion out of the Arabic Peninsula.

This is not to say that the Crusades were blameless or bloodless. As the brutalities, and tragedies of the Crusades are well documented, yet they were far fewer and less drastic than the 500 some odd Jihads depicted on the map. Under Crusader rule all were allowed to worship within the Holy City of Jerusalem, and attrocities like slavery and forced conversions were few and far between. Where as the Islamic invasions of Europe netted well over a milion slaves, rapes, and countless forced conversions.

Apparently even 800 years ago, Crusader forces knew it was a good idea to always leave yourself a way out of a sticky situation. Conservation and restoration work in the old city of Tiberias exposed a secret escape tunnel that connected the Crusader citadel directly with the harbor on the Sea of Galilee in the 1100s. The tunnel may have been used in times of danger, such as when Saladin besieged the city in 1187.

Byzantine gold ring with a Jerusalem cross, dating to the 11th to 12th centuries CE. 

From the source, Royal Athena Galleries:

The design originates with the coat of arms worn by Godfrey of Bouillon during the First Crusade, and it remained in use as the arms of the King of Jerusalem throughout their duration (1099–1291). The symbolism of the five-fold cross is variously given as the Five Wounds of Christ, Christ and the four quarters of the world, or Christ and the four evangelists.


Women’s History Month - Day 8 Anna Comnenus

Anna Comnenus was the daughter of Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus. Later in her life, Anna compiled an account of her father’s reign, the account spanned 15 volumes and was called the Alexiad. Her work is where most of the information about late 11th century and 12th century Byzantine history. Prior to her father’s death, Anna worked hard to ensure that her husband Nikephoros was made emperor, however her brother, John was made emperor on her father’s death bed. Anna was a part of the assassination attempt against her brother, at her father’s funeral - however she was unsuccessful. An incredible woman, under her father, Anna ran a large hospital and an orphanage, teaching medicine at the hospital, and treating her father Alexius Comnenus when he became sick.


March 18th 1314: Jacques de Molay killed

On this day in 1314, Jacques de Molay, the twenty-third and last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, was burned at the stake. The Templar knights were a major fighting unit of the Crusades, aiming to preserve Christendom and regain control of the Holy Land. After control the Holy Land was lost to Muslim forces, support for the Knights Templar started to fade. King Philip IV of France began to mistrust the group and wanted to free himself of his debts to the Templar; he thus had many leading Knights burned at the stake. Pope Clement V disbanded the group in 1312, and the hunt continued for remaining members. The Knights were tortured until they confessed to a range of crimes, including heresy, obscene rituals, and idolatry. De Molay had been forced to make such a confession, and despite retracting the confession, he was charged with heresy and burned at the stake. Pope Clement died a month later and King Philip died that year. With their leader gone, the remaining Templars were arrested or removed from the group and the Knights Templar were no more.

“God knows who is wrong and has sinned. Soon a calamity will occur to those who have condemned us to death"
- De Molay’s words from the stake

The conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade (painting from the 15th century). Perhaps the most ridiculous of a series of mostly foolish and failed crusades, the Fourth Crusade (early 1200s) never attacked Muslim armies, and most of them never even approached the Holy Land. Instead, Crusaders carried out the wishes of their Venetian financiers, attacking Zara and then becoming embroiled in a struggle for the Byzantine throne. Instead of helping the Byzantines (the ostensible purpose of the Crusades), the armies plundered and weakened them.