The Crusades


In different forms, the Crusades lasted more than 500 years, as Christians from Europe tried to establish various forms of control over the holy lands.

Historians have debated a great deal as to the motivations of the Crusaders. Were they driven by bloodlust or piety or a sense of adventure or desire for dominion? Their conduct bears out this unsettled debate, for they performed great acts of butchery but also of courage -- they showed perfidy but also devotion. One cannot help but believe that they were not so different from people of today. Some acted with good intentions and others with bad, some for purity and some for sin, and many, caught up in the events and emotions of the age, simply flung their lives into what was one of the most significant series of events in history.

Acre, or Akka, the so-called ``Key to Palestine'' was under siege on two sides and blockaded on the other two sides by European forces when Saladin's jihad army surrounded the sieging army and made the siege far more complicated. The siege itself lasted more than two years, ending with the withdrawal of the Muslim forces and the surrender of the city, when the European effort was revitalized with reinforcements and renewed interest from the West, in the person of Richard the Lionhearted.

Al-Amut fortress, in Persia, was impregnable for more than a hundred years until finally destroyed by the Mongol Hulagu. From this fortress, assassins were sent out to kill the most powerful men in the world, and they seldom failed. The leader of the sect, Grand Master Assassin Hasan-i Sabbah, came to be known as The Old Man of the Mountain, and is reputed to have stayed in his fortress for 35 years without leaving except for twice to pray on the roof.

When the first Crusade stumbled up to the gates of Edessa in 1097, the mostly Christian Armenian population welcomed the army of Baldwin of Boulogne, who had split from the central army. The Crusaders murdered the Armenian prince, and set up Baldwin as its ruler. After 1099, Edessa was ruled by a count under nominal suzerainty to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but was otherwise an independent unit, called a county. The Crusaders held Edessa for nearly fifty years, until Imad ad-Din Zangi of Mosul conquered Edessa in 1144. The shock of the loss of the traditionally Christian city of Edessa to the infidel inspired the second Crusade, but Edessa was never re-taken.

Antioch, a fabled city of antiquity, had existed for about 1400 years when the first Crusade arrived in 1097. The population at that time was almost entirely Christian, although the governorship was in the hands of a Turk, Yaghi-Siyan.

While Baldwin of Boulogne pursued his ambitions in Edessa and Tancred of Taranto pursued his in Cilicia, the remaining leaders in the central army, Raymond of Toulouse, Bohemond of Taranto (Tancred's uncle), and Godfrey of Bouillion set up a partial siege outside Antioch, each of the three leaders setting up camp around one of the cities many gates. The siege dragged on for months, and the defenders had gardens and even grazing lands within the city walls to keep them fortified. The starving Crusaders held on to their positions, but the army began to slowly disintegrate and desert.

Salvation came in the form of a traitor. A discontented Armenian named Firouz, who had converted to Islam, contacted the Crusaders. On the second of June, 1098, the army marched eastward, then turned around in the middle of the night and stood again outside the walls of Antioch just as dawn was breaking. A ladder was lowered from the Tower of the Two Sisters, and sixty knights scrambled over the wall, raising the Christian population, and opening the gates to the Crusading army. The army poured into the city, cutting down Turks as well as Christians in the confusion.

Anatolia is the name given to the region which is now Turkey and Armenia, characterized by a ring of high mountains and cliffs surrounding a central plateau. The region was originally inhabited by the Hittite peoples, before being settled by Turkik nomads from central Asia and eastern Europeans.