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Prof. Thomas Madden

Myths about the Crusades

Lately, crusades have often been the subject of news coverage. President Bush made the mistake of calling the war on terrorism a "crusade" and has been heavily criticized for using words so aggressive and offensive to Muslims around the world. If they are offensive, then I wonder how often they are used by the Arabs themselves. Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar have repeatedly called the Americans "crusaders," and the current war a "crusade against Islam." For decades, Arabs in the Middle East have consistently called Americans "crusaders" or "cowboys." Undoubtedly, in the Muslim world, the Crusades are a living fact.

They are not forgotten in the West either. Despite the numerous contradictions between East and West, most of the representatives of the two


cultures refer to the Crusades in the same way. It is generally accepted that the Crusades are a black spot in the history of Western civilization in general and the Catholic Church in particular. Anyone who wants to throw mud at Catholics will not hesitate to pull the Crusades and the Inquisition from their belts. Crusades are often used as a classic example of the evils that organized religion can cause. The average passer-by in New York and Cairo will agree that the Crusades are an insidious, cynical and unprovoked attack by religious fanatics on the peaceful, prosperous and sophisticated world of Islam.

This has not always been the case. In the Middle Ages, we will not find a single Christian in Europe who does not consider the Crusades to be the best work. Even Muslims respect the ideals of the Crusaders and the piety of their opponents. Everything changed with the arrival of the Protestant Reformation. For Martin Luther, who threw overboard the Christian doctrines of the pope's authority and indulgences, the Crusades were nothing more than a cunning move by the power-hungry papacy. He even claims that to fight against Muslims means to fight against Christ himself, because it was He who sent the Turks to punish the Christian world for unbelief. When Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and his army launched an invasion of Austria, Luther changed his mind about the need to fight him, but remained steadfast in his condemnation of the Crusades. For the next two centuries, the Crusades were usually viewed through the prism of their own confession: Protestants demonized them, Catholics praised them. As for Suleiman and his successors, it was enough that the Crusades were gone.

The modern view of the Crusades was born during the 18th century Enlightenment. Most philosophers, such as Voltaire, view medieval Christianity as an insidious prejudice. For them, the Crusades were a mass movement of barbarians driven by bigotry, greed and lust. Later, the Enlightenment approach to the Crusades regained popularity. During the Romantic period and the beginning of the 20th century, they were praised as products of nobility (but not faith). After World War II, however, public opinion turned decisively against them. Historians who saw Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin loathed the war in the name of ideology — whatever that ideology was. These feelings were summarized by Sir Stephen Runciman in his three-volume History of the Crusades (1951-1954). The people of the Middle Ages who accepted the cross and went to the Middle East were cynical villains, greedy predators, or naively deceived fools. The beautifully written work soon became an example. With little or no help from anyone else, Runciman was able to define the modern conventional view of the Crusades.

Since the 1970s, the Crusades have attracted the attention of many scholars who have thoroughly gone into the smallest detail. As a result, we now know much more about the holy wars of Christianity than ever before. But the fruits of decades of scientific work are slowly entering the public consciousness. This is partly the fault of professional historians, who are usually forced to publish highly specialized works that are difficult to access for those who do not belong to academia. It is also true that modern elites clearly do not want to part with Runciman's views. Popular books on the Crusades repeat Runciman as a parrot, otherwise they will not be popular. The same can be said for other media, such as the BBC / A & E documentary The Crusades (1995), in which Terry Jones hosts the comedy show Monty Python. To give it an aura of authority, the directors cut out interviews with a number of prominent historians and Crusaders. The problem was that historians did not agree with Runciman's ideas. But it wasn't that scary. The directors simply edited the tapes to make historians say the same thing as Runciman.

So what is the true history of the Crusades? Of course, it is quite voluminous. But over the last twenty years, very good history books have been written, in which it is mainly set out. So, given the pile of materials in which the Crusades are now presented, it will be easier to talk not about what they were, but about what they were not. So, here are some of the most common myths and why these myths are not true.


Myth I1: The Crusades were an unprovoked aggression against peaceful Muslims.

These are fabrications. Since the time of Muhammad, Muslims have been trying to conquer Christendom. And by the way, they did pretty well with that. For centuries of constant campaigns of conquest, Muslim armies conquered all of North Africa, the Middle East, Asia Minor, and almost all of Spain. In other words, by the end of the eleventh century, the forces of Islam had occupied two-thirds of Christendom. Palestine is the birthplace of Jesus Christ, Egypt is the birthplace of Christian monasticism, Asia Minor, where St. Apostle Paul sowed the seeds of the first Christian communities - all this was not the periphery of Christianity, but his very heart. And the Muslim empires did not stop there. They continued their advance west to Constantinople, eventually passing through it and invading Europe itself. If we talk about provoked aggression, then it is only on the Muslim side. At one time, all that was left of Christendom was forced to either defend itself or die, falling victim to the Islamic conquest. The first crusade was convened by Pope Urban II in 1095 in response to constant requests for help from the Byzantine emperor of Constantinople. Urban called on the knights of Christendom to come to the aid of their eastern brethren. The campaign was to be merciful in order to free the Christians of the East from the Muslim invaders. In other words, from the very beginning, the Crusades were a defensive war. The whole history of the Crusades in the East is a response to Muslim aggression.


Myth II: The Crusaders wore crosses, but were really only interested in trophies and lands. The pious banalities were for

them only a cover for predatory greed.

At one time, historians believed that population growth in Europe led to a crisis: too many noble "second sons" appeared, trained in chivalry, but who did not inherit feudal lands. In this way, the Crusades were a defensive way out, allowing these warlike gentlemen to be sent far from Europe, where they could obtain land for themselves at someone else's expense. With the advent of computer databases, modern scientists have dispelled this myth. We now know that it was the "eldest sons" in Europe who responded to the Pope's call in 1095, as they did during subsequent campaigns. Participation in the Crusades was incredibly expensive. To raise the necessary funds, the owners had to sell or mortgage their land. And the kingdom beyond the sea was of no interest to anyone. Like soldiers today, the medieval crusader was proud to do his duty, but he also felt nostalgic. After the impressive success of the First Crusade, when Jerusalem and most of Palestine fell into the hands of the Crusaders, almost all the Crusaders returned home. Only a handful remain to fortify and manage the conquered territories. Trophies were also scarce. Although, of course, the Crusaders dreamed of the innumerable wealth of the prosperous eastern cities, almost none of them even reimbursed. But money and land were not the main reason for going on the Crusade. Instead, they wanted to atone for their sins and achieve salvation by doing good works in distant lands.


Myth III: When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, they killed all the men, women, and children in the city, so that its streets were

in blood to the ankles.

This is a favorite example used to demonstrate the wicked nature of the Crusades. Bill Clinton recently quoted him in a speech in Georgetown, citing one of the reasons the United States has been the target of Muslim terrorism (although to increase the effect, Mr Clinton has raised blood levels to the knee). Undoubtedly, after the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem, many were killed in the city. But this must be understood in a historical context. The generally accepted moral standard of all European and Asian civilizations up to the present day is that a city that has resisted and been conquered by force belongs to the victors. This includes not only buildings and goods, but also residents. That is why every city or fortress had to think carefully about whether it would be able to withstand the besieging army. If not, it would be wise to start negotiations on the terms of the transfer. In the case of Jerusalem, its defenders resisted to the last. They hoped that the huge walls of the city would hold back the Crusaders until help arrived from Egypt. The calculation turns out to be wrong. As a result, when the city fell, it was looted. Many were killed, but many others were released for ransom or just like that. By modern standards, this seems cruel. But a medieval knight would point out that in modern warfare, many more innocent men, women, and children die from bombings than can be killed by swords in a day or two. It should also be noted that in those Muslim cities that surrender to the Crusaders, no one touches the inhabitants, they retain their property and are free to practice their religion. And as for the streets covered in blood, no historian will consider them anything more than a literary fiction. Jerusalem is a big city. To fill its streets with blood three inches deep, you have to kill many more people than have lived not only in it, but in the entire region.


Myth 4: The Crusades are simply a medieval form of colonialism dressed in religious garb.

It is important to remember that the medieval West was not a powerful dominant culture invading a primitive, backward region. The Muslim East was powerful, rich and prosperous. Europe was the "third world". The Crusades founded by the First Crusade were not Catholic plantations on Muslim soil, as the British colonized America. The Catholic presence in the Crusaders has always been small, barely reaching 10 percent of their population. This number includes rulers and magistrates, as well as Italian merchants and members of military orders. The majority of the population of the Crusaders are Muslims. That is, they were not colonies in the sense that plantations or even outlets were called so (for example, in India). These were outposts. The ultimate goal of the existence of the Crusaders was to protect the holy places of Palestine, especially Jerusalem, and to provide a safe environment for the Christian pilgrims who visited them. There is no metropolis with which the Crusaders could maintain economic relations, there was no income for Europeans to derive from them. On the contrary, the cost of the Crusades to support the Latin East was a significant burden on Europe's resources. As an outpost, the Crusaders turned their attention to the military. They endured while the Muslims fought against each other, but once united, they managed to destroy the fortresses, capture the cities and in 1291 finally expel the Christians.


Myth 5: The Crusades were also directed against the Jews.

No pope has ever called a crusade against the Jews. During the First Crusade, a gang unrelated to the main army came to the cities of the Rhineland and decided to rob and kill the Jews found there. This group is driven in part by outright greed and in part by the mistaken belief that the Jews who crucified Christ were the legitimate target of war. Pope Urban II and his successors condemned the attacks on Jews. Local bishops and other clergy and laity tried to protect the Jews, though not always successfully. Similarly, at the beginning of the Second Crusade, a group of apostates killed many Jews in Germany until St. Bernard put an end to it. These delusions of the crusader movement were an unwanted byproduct of the enthusiasm that drove the crusaders. But they were not the target of the Crusades. To use a modern analogy, during World War II, some American soldiers committed crimes while abroad. For this they were arrested and punished. But committing crimes was not the goal of World War II.


Myth 6: The Crusades were so vicious and disgusting that there was even a children's crusade.

The so-called "Children's Crusade" of 1212 is neither a crusade nor a children's crusade. This is a particularly large source of religious enthusiasm in Germany, which has led to the fact that a number of young people, mostly teenagers, declare themselves crusaders and move to the sea. Along the way, they meet huge support from the population, as well as from many bandits, robbers and beggars who join them. In Italy, the movement split up and eventually ended where the Mediterranean Sea did not split up to allow participants to cross. Pope Innocent III did not declare it a crusade. On the contrary, he has repeatedly called on those who do not carry weapons to stay at home, contributing to hostilities through fasting, prayer and almsgiving. In this case, he praised the young people who had traveled so long because of their jealousy, and then ordered them to return home.


Myth 7: Pope John Paul II apologized for the Crusades.

Mysterious, given how severely the pope was criticized for not apologizing for the Crusades when he asked forgiveness from all those who had been unjustly harmed by Christians. Recently, John Paul II really apologized to the Greeks for the fact that in 1204 the participants in the Fourth Crusade ravaged Constantinople. But the then Pope Innocent III expressed similar regrets.


Myth №8: Muslims who vividly remember the Crusades have every reason to hate the West.

In fact, the Muslim world remembers the Crusades in the same way that the West does - wrongly. Understandably, Muslims draw their knowledge of the Crusades from the same rotten historical work on which the West relies. At one time, the Muslim world was proud of the Crusades as its great victory. In the end, the Muslims won the wars. But Western writers, annoyed by the legacy of modern imperialism, have turned the Crusades into aggressive wars and Muslims into silent sufferers. Thus they erased centuries of triumphant victories of Islam, offering in return only the consolation of the innocent victim.


First publication (in English): "Catholic Dossier", January-February 2002


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