The Crusades – Pilgrimage or Holy War?: Crash Course World History #15


Hi there! My name is John Green; this is Crash
Course World History, and today we’re going to talk about the Crusades. Ohhh, Stan, do
we have to talk about the Crusades? I hate them… Here’s the thing about the Crusades, which
were a series of military expeditions from parts of Europe to the Eastern coast of the
Mediterranean. The real reason they feature so prominently in history is because we’ve
endlessly romanticized the story of the Crusades. We’ve created this simple narrative with
characters to root for and root against, and it’s all been endlessly idealized by the
likes of Sir Walter Scott. And there are knights with swords and lion hearts… NO, STAN. LIONHEARTS.
Thank you. [theme music] Let’s start by saying that initially the
Crusades were not a “holy war” on the part of Europeans against Islam, but in important
ways the Crusades were driven by religious faith. Past John: Mr. Green, Mr. Green! Religion
causes all wars. Imagine no war — I’m gonna cut you off right there before
you violate copyright, me-from-the-past. But as usual, you’re wrong. Simple readings
of history are rarely sufficient. By the way, when did my handwriting get so much better? I mean, if the Crusades had been brought on
by the lightning-fast rise of the Islamic empire and a desire to keep in Christian hands
the land of Jesus, then the Crusades would’ve started in the 8th century. But early Islamic
dynasties, like the Umayyads and the Abbasids, were perfectly happy with Christians and Jews
living among them, as long as they paid a tax. And plus the Christian pilgrimage business
was awesome for the Islamic Empire’s economy. But then a new group of Muslims, the Seljuk
Turks, moved into the region and they sacked the holy cities and made it much more difficult
for Christians to make their pilgrimages. And while they quickly realized their mistake,
it was already too late. The Byzantines, who’d had their literal-asses kicked at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071,
felt the threat and called upon the West for help. So the first official crusade began with a
call to arms from Pope Urban II in 1095 CE. This was partly because Urban wanted to unite
Europe and he’d figured out the lesson the rest of us learn from alien invasion movies:
the best way to get people to unite is to give them a common enemy. So Urban called
on all the bickering knights and nobility of Europe, and he saideth unto his people:
“Let us go forth and help the Byzantines because then maybe they will acknowledge my
awesomeness and get rid of their stupid Not Having Me as Pope thing, and while we are at it,
let’s liberate Jerusalem!” I’m paraphrasing, by the way. Shifting the focus to Jerusalem is really
important, because the Crusades were not primarily military operations; they were pilgrimages.
Theologically, Christianity didn’t have an idea of a holy war – like, war might
be just, but fighting wasn’t something that got you into heaven. But pilgrimage to a holy
shrine could help you out on that front, and Urban had the key insight to pitch the Crusade
as a pilgrimage with a touch of warring on the side. I do the same thing to my kid every
night: I’m not feeding you dinner featuring animal crackers. I’m feeding you animal crackers
featuring a dinner. Oh, it’s time for the open letter? An Open Letter to Animal Crackers. But first let’s see what’s in the Secret
Compartment today. Oh, it’s animal crackers. Thanks, Stan… Hi there, Animal Crackers, it’s me, John
Green. Thanks for being delicious, but let me throw out a crazy idea here: Maybe foods
that are ALREADY DELICIOUS do not need the added benefit of being PLEASINGLY SHAPED.
I mean, why can’t I give my kid animal spinach or animal sweet potato or even animal cooked
animal? I mean, we can put a man on Mars but we can’t make spinach shaped like elephants?
What Stan? We haven’t put a man on Mars? Stupid world, always disappointing me. Best wishes, John Green One last myth to dispel: The Crusades also
were NOT an early example of European colonization of the Middle East, even if they did create
some European-ish kingdoms there for a while. That’s a much later, post-and-anti-colonialist view that
comes, at least partially, from a Marxist reading of history. In the case of the Crusades, it was argued,
the knights who went adventuring in the Levant were the second and third sons of wealthy
nobles who, because of European inheritance rules, had little to look forward to by staying
in Europe and lots to gain – in terms of plunder – by going to the East. Cool theory,
bro, but it’s not true. First, most of the people who responded to the call to Crusade
weren’t knights at all; they were poor people. And secondly, most of the nobles who did go
crusading were lords of estates, not their wastrel kids. But more importantly, that analysis ignores
religious motivations. We’ve approached religions as historical phenomena — thinking
about how, for instance, the capricious environment of Mesopotamia led to a capricious cadre of
Mesopotamian gods. But just as the world shapes religion, religion also shapes the world. And some modern historians might ignore religious
motivations, but medieval crusaders sure as hell didn’t. I mean, when people came up
with that idiom, they clearly thought Hell was for sure. To the Crusaders, they were
taking up arms to protect Christ and his kingdom. And what better way to show your devotion
to God than putting a cross on your sleeve, spending 5 to 6 times your annual income to outfit yourself
and all your horses, and heading for the Holy Land? So when these people cried out “God Wills
It!” to explain their reasons for going, we should do them the favor of believing them.
And the results of the First Crusade seemed to indicate that God had willed it. Following
the lead of roving preachers with names like Peter the Rabbit- Peter the Hermit? Stan,
you’re always making history less cool! Fine, following preachers like Peter the Hermit,
thousands of peasants and nobles alike volunteered for the First Crusade. It got off to kind of a rough start
because pilgrims kept robbing those they encountered on the way. Plus, there was no real leader
so they were constant rivalries between nobles about who could supply the most troops. Notable
among the notables were Godfrey of Bouillon, Bohemond of Taranto, and Raymond of Toulouse. But despite the rivalries, and the disorganization
the crusaders were remarkably — some would say miraculously — successful. By the time
they arrived in the Levant, they were fighting not against the Seljuk Turks but against Fatimid
Egyptians, who had captured the Holy Land from the Seljuks, thereby making the Turks
none too pleased with the Egyptians. At Antioch the Crusaders reversed a seemingly hopeless
situation when a peasant found a spear that had pierced the side of Christ’s side hidden
under a church, thereby raising morale enough to win the day. And then they did the impossible:
They took Jerusalem, securing it for Christendom and famously killing a lot of people in the
al-Asqa mosque. Now the Crusaders succeeded in part because
the Turkish Muslims, who were Sunnis, did not step up to help the Egyptians, who were
Shia. But that kind of complicated, intra-Islamic rivalry gets in the way of the awesome narrative:
The Christians just saw it as a miracle. So by 1100CE European nobles held both Antioch
and Jerusalem as Latin Christian kingdoms. I say Latin to make the point that there were
lots of Christians living in these cities before the Crusaders arrived, they just weren’t Catholic — they were
Orthodox, a point that will become relevant shortly. We’re going to skip the second Crusade because
it bores me and move on to the Third Crusade because it’s the famous one. Broadly speaking,
the Third Crusade was a European response to the emergence of a new Islamic power, neither
Turkish nor Abbasid: the Egyptian (although he was really a Kurd) Sultan al-Malik al-Nasir
Salah ed-Din Yusuf, better known to the west as Saladin. Saladin, having consolidating his power in
Egypt, sought to expand by taking Damascus and, eventually Jerusalem, which he did successfully,
because he was an amazing general. And then the loss of Jerusalem caused Pope Gregory
VIII to call for a third crusade. Three of the most important kings in Europe answered
the call: Philip “cowardly schemer” the Second of France, Richard “Lionheart” the First of
England, and Frederick “I am going to drown anticlimactically on the journey while trying
to bathe in a river” Barbarossa of the not-holy, not-roman, and not-imperial Holy Roman Empire.
Both Richard and Saladin were great generals who earned the respect of their troops. And while from the European perspective the
crusade was a failure because they didn’t take Jerusalem, it did radically change crusading
forever by making Egypt a target. Richard understood that the best chance to take Jerusalem
involved first taking Egypt, but he couldn’t convince any crusaders to join him because Egypt had
a lot less religious value to Christians than Jerusalem. So Richard was forced to call off the Crusade
early, but if he had just hung around until Easter of 1192, he would’ve seen Saladin
die. And then Richard probably could have fulfilled all his crusading dreams, but then,
you know, we wouldn’t have needed the 4th Crusade. Although crusading continued throughout the
14th century, mostly with an emphasis on North Africa and not the Holy Land, the 4th Crusade
is the last one we’ll focus on, because it was the crazy one. Let’s go to the
Thought Bubble. So a lot of people volunteered for the fourth
crusade — more than 35,000 — and the generals didn’t want to march them all the way across
Anatolia, because they knew from experience that it was A. dangerous and B. hot, so they
decided to go by boat, which necessitated the building of the largest naval fleet Europe
had seen since the Roman Empire. The Venetians built 500 ships, but then only
11,000 Crusaders actually made it down to Venice, because, like, oh I meant to go but
I had a thing come up… etc. There wasn’t enough money to pay for those boats, so the
Venetians made the Crusaders a deal: Help us capture the rebellious city of Zara, and
we’ll ferry you to Anatolia. This was a smidge problematic, Crusading-wise,
because Zara was a Christian city, but the Crusaders agreed to help, resulting in the
Pope excommunicating both them and the Venetians. Then after the Crusaders failed to take Zara
and were still broke, a would-be Byzantine emperor named Alexius III promised the Crusaders
he would pay them if they helped him out, so the (excommunicated) Catholic Crusaders
fought on behalf of the Orthodox Alexius, who soon became emperor in Constantinople.
But it took Alexius a while to come up with the money he’d promised the Crusaders, so
they were waiting around in Constantinople, and then Alexius was suddenly dethroned by
the awesomely named Mourtzouphlos, leaving the crusaders stuck in Constantinople with
no money. Christian holy warriors couldn’t very well
sack the largest city in Christendom, could they? Well, it turns out they could and boy,
did they. They took all the wealth they could find, killed and raped Christians as they
went, stole the statues of horses that now adorn St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, and retook exactly
none of the Holy Land. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So you’d think this disaster would discredit
the whole notion of Crusading, right? No. Instead, it legitimatized the idea that Crusading
didn’t have to be about pilgrimage: that any enemies of the Catholic Church were fair
game. Also, the fourth crusade pretty much doomed
the Byzantine Empire, which never really recovered. Constantinople, a shadow of its former self,
was conquered by the Turks in 1453. So ultimately the Crusades were a total failure at establishing
Christian kingdoms in the Holy Land long term. And with the coming of the Ottomans, the region
remained solidly Muslim, as it (mostly) is today. And the Crusades didn’t really open up lines
of communication between the Christian and Muslim worlds, because those lines of communication
were already open. Plus, most historians now agree that the Crusades didn’t bring Europe
out of the Middle Ages by offering it contact with the superior intellectual accomplishments
of the Islamic world. In fact, they were a tremendous drain on Europe’s resources. For me, the Crusades matter because they remind
us that the medieval world was fundamentally different from ours. The men and women who
took up the cross believed in the sacrality of their work in a way that we often can’t
conceive of today. And when we focus so much on the heroic narrative or the anti-imperialist
narrative, or all the political in-fighting, we can lose sight of what the Crusades must
have meant to the Crusaders. How the journey from pilgrimage to holy war transformed their
faith and their lives. And ultimately, that exercise in empathy is the coolest thing about studying
history. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller, our script supervisor is Danica Johnson. Our graphics team is Thought Bubble, and the
show is written by my high school history teacher Raoul Meyer and myself. If you enjoyed
today’s video don’t forget to like and favorite it. Also, you can also follow us
on Twitter or at Facebook. There are links in the video info. Last week’s Phrase of
the Week was: Ali-Frazier. You can guess at this week’s Phrase of the Week or suggest
future ones in comments where you can also ask questions that our team of historians
will endeavor to answer. Thanks for watching. I apologize to my prudish fans for leaving
both buttons unbuttoned and as we say in my hometown, Don’t Forget To Be Awesome. Whoah! Globe, globe, globe…


100 Responses

  1. fahd f

    June 15, 2019 8:05 pm

    All the calamities that have come upon the land of the Arabs are caused by the people of the old continent when this continent dies and the world is relieved of its evil

  2. Pretentious Ass Wipe

    June 19, 2019 7:26 pm

    I hate him for not thinking the Crusades is awesome. I have Pope Urban II’s speech memorized. The accomplishment of the first crusade is mind blowing. Being able to travel that far across the known world into Asia Minor and then into the Middle East (conquering all the territory leading up to it) and then retaking Jerusalem with only 6,000 crusaders left (because 60% of them died along the way), is impressive. They managed to take and retake and stay in the holy land for over 200 years. Practically, right after the last Crusade, gunpowder was introduced to the West and the first firearm was invented, if the crusaders had firearms, the Jerusalem would still belong to the Catholic Church

  3. Ayman Swlm

    June 22, 2019 12:07 pm

    King Salahuddin al ayubei defeated the christians at hetten
    Queen Shajar od dor defeated king of france 9th luis in mansura and put him in prison of dar ibn lokman

  4. M E

    June 24, 2019 12:54 pm

    Sounds like bs holyness with war as a side right!! Same things are still going on in the area lol smh pilgrimage with a side of war

  5. fuzzywzhe

    June 24, 2019 1:03 pm

    1:19 I'm a little confused as to what is on the back of the laptop. Does he mean fascists, as in the political group that combined government with industry and made heavy continual usage of propaganda or does he mean fascists – anybody that detested the woman that voted for the Authorizations to Use Force in Iraq, and was the driving force in destroying Libya "to prevent a humanitarian crisis", which is now in civil war today with literal opeating slavery markets?

  6. Martin

    June 24, 2019 5:42 pm

    What a bunch of bollocks

    1. Only had to pay their taxes? No. Christians and Jews were overtaxed by Muslims. They paid more taxes because they were not Muslim.
    2. There never was or has been any colonization of the Middle East by Europeans? It was colonized by the caliphates.
    3. The Crusades a primarily a pilgrimage? It was a war from the start. They just had to find their enemy first.

  7. Noctis Nova

    June 25, 2019 5:03 am

    Sounds to me like a bunch of larpers taken too far. Living in a time when life was harsh, short, and desperate. So why not lose yourself in a power fantasy. Kind of like modern Meme-Nazis/White Nationalists.

  8. Finlay McAfee

    June 28, 2019 10:46 am

    Imagine if we talked about having empathy with pillaging, murdering rapists today, wouldn't go down so well.

  9. Kevin H

    July 1, 2019 4:06 pm

    This is just oozing with Islamic sympathy and Christian/western hatred. Jesus, I can't watch it.

  10. CowForceSeven

    July 2, 2019 7:58 pm

    I think this video did a great job of being unbiased and showing understanding to both sides of the crusades. It shows that the crusaders weren’t evil, they were provoked, and that Muslims aren’t evil, they provoked us but ultimately were defending themselves.

  11. Blue Clouds

    July 3, 2019 2:00 pm

    You like to LIE about the world history, don't you, sleepy face?
    Crusaders were the RELIGIOUS WARS (Christians against Muslims), because Christians always believe today's lands called Israel, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey (Anatolia), Cypress, etc. belong to the Christian world/kingdom. So Christians hate Muslims & Jews to death.
    That's why today's the descendents of the same crusaders established Israel in order for Jews to be sacrificed in the war w Muslims, and once both killed one another, Christians would march through and conqure West Asia & North Africa.

  12. B. K.

    July 6, 2019 11:40 pm

    Completely left out the Arab and African pirates invading taking tens of millions of Europeans as slaves before any of the crusades. The crusaders were a response to the slavery.

  13. Battle Born 702

    July 13, 2019 3:09 pm

    The Christian Crusade was only started in response to the expanding Muslim conquest of that time, and after the Muslims had already wiped most of the Christians out. People fail to mention that tid bit of information. It was not some random mission to force Christianity on people. Do your own research.

  14. Jewish Llama

    July 15, 2019 3:40 am

    I Love all the New Comments, just from the girls i knew in high school who loved John Green i know the video would have historical revisionism

  15. Cody Beasenburg

    July 21, 2019 9:25 am

    We haven't put a man on Mars but today's the fiftieth of when we put a man on the Moon 🙂

  16. ابو عائشة

    July 25, 2019 11:15 am

    The Islamic Army has won most of the battles against the Crusaders!!
    In the comments, I do not know what they are proud of.?

  17. Eric Jeffrey

    July 26, 2019 1:28 pm

    "as long as they paid a tax" – I love how you quickly skim over the jizyah as though it was an entirely peaceful idea.

  18. Cole Dillon

    August 3, 2019 6:02 pm

    Just ignore the simple fact that Muslims had been attacking Christians for 400 years prior, also that many were kidnapped and forced into slavery…… 49 battles by Christians, over 500 by Islam. Fact, fact and fact

  19. Dwayne Johnson

    August 4, 2019 5:01 am

    Dude u just pissed a lot of ppl off by not giving them their side of history that they heard ur unbiased history is to much it's to much

  20. Zu Zairiel

    August 4, 2019 8:07 am

    1 Samuel 15:3 (NRS) Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.' "

  21. PlayGirl

    August 5, 2019 6:12 pm

    When you say this this this then say no it was that means you have just communicated nothing because people hear everything that is “this and not that” so you are getting false information across because you have confused everyone then they don’t pay attention because then they question …what is he saying, what are the facts, no that was the first part which was false so nothing except talking to fast BS. Look at all the comments I’m sure it will support what I’ve said.
    Recommend you study how the brain and hearing work.

  22. AZ Llama

    August 7, 2019 4:08 am

    Can somebody help me ?
    What is Green’s explanation for the success of the First crusade ?
    How did the fourth crusade impact the Byzantine empire?

  23. guthax30

    August 8, 2019 12:27 pm

    I'm not saying John is biased, at all; he's an intelligent sensitive man with good taste in source material…however, i do think he's the tiniest bit reluctant to admit that even though religion was not the primary cause for suffering during the crusades it most certainly didn't help. Religion leads to tribalism and tribalism leads to racism and racism always leads to violence. Yes, the wars would have happened regardless; humans love war. It's one of our favorite hobbies. But if people weren't promised the kingdom of heaven in return for violence, i have to imagine much fewer people would have signed up and so fewer people would have probably died, ultimately.

  24. happy543210

    August 12, 2019 3:02 am

    and now the muslims will soon conquer europe with a silent invasion better known as refugee migration!

  25. Wiz Loo

    August 12, 2019 11:35 am

    The Crusades saved Europe from ISLAM. You are like a boy, be a man and say the truth or are you afraid of muslims?

  26. Andrew Bieler

    August 12, 2019 3:11 pm

    I feel like there’s a huuuge downplay about Islamic violence against non Muslims for several generations.

  27. dylan t

    August 14, 2019 10:24 am

    Seljuk Turks: threatens to destroy christendom

    Pope Urban II: Omae Wa Mou Shindeiru

    Seljuk Turks: Nani?!

  28. frontiersman

    August 26, 2019 11:43 pm

    They built 500 ships but only 11,000 crusaders showed up because you know I've got other stuff to do etc…

    Exactly how the area 51 raid will end up

  29. Finlay Summerhayes

    August 28, 2019 11:19 pm

    Hello 👋🌹🌎🌪✨🌜🌧🔥🌹🔥🌪⚡️🌧🌪🌍🌚💦🌪🌹🌏🌚🌧🌹🌏🌚🌪🌧🌪🌚🔥🌪💧🌎🌚✨⛅️💧🌑✨⚡️🌚🌪🌹💦🌪🌚🌹⛅️🌧🌍⚡️🥀🌧⛅️🥀🌚⛅️💦⚡️🌚🌥🌈⛅️🌧🌞🌍💦🌧🌞🌎💦🌪✨🌚☃️💦⛅️🌪🌖🌗⭐️🍉⭐️🌪🍎🍉⭐️🌪🍎⭐️🌘🍎🌘🌈🍏🌻🍒🍉🌫🌟🌈🌫🌎🌕🌪🌫🌟🌪🌟🌑🌈🌑🌚🍎🌎✨🍏🍐☁️🌈🌈🌈🌈🌻🌥🌤❄️🌤🌪🌤🌪🌤❄️🌤🌪🌻🌪🌻🌥🌻🌥🌞🌥⛅️☃️⛅️☔️🌪💦⛅️🌚🍄🌑☃️☃️🌚🌑🌪🌤🌍🌜🌤🌹🌑✨🌤❄️✨🌚🌤💧🌍🌤✨💧🌎🌚⛈💦🌜🌥💦🌧💦🌥🌜✨💦🍐🌹✨💦🌎✨🍐💦✨🌎🌥🍐🌞🌚☃️⛈🌞✨☃️⛈🌑🌞🌥💦🌎🌖💦🍎🌗🔥⭐️🍎

  30. Youssef Mohamed

    August 31, 2019 5:05 am

    "Frederich 'I am going to drown anticlimactically on the journey while trying to bathe in a river' Barbarossa of the NOT-holy NOT-Roman , NOT-imperial HRE" u r really making history awesome

  31. SamaK

    September 2, 2019 2:53 pm

    what, did they have magic earrings that turned them into a magical ladybug who had the power to be lucky?
    or did they have a magic ring that could turn them into a cat that had the power to kill anything it touched
    EDIT: I made a reference lmao

  32. Bartholomew Lancuba

    September 3, 2019 7:17 am

    The crusades did happen due to Islamic aggression? The 11th century was the first time Italy and thus Rome wasnt under Islamic threat due to the norman proto crusade movement


    September 11, 2019 9:39 pm

    For the Grace, for the might of our Lord, for the home of the holy for their faith and the way of the sword gave their lives so boldly

  34. Jacque boyce

    September 18, 2019 4:57 pm

    All wars are not fought due to religion
    The" Encyclopedia of Wars" does contain
    All known historical wars and gives
    Social and political contexts for the same.
    Wars are fought for land, power,
    Water and food resources,
    And for money from wealth by
    Whole countries paying taxes.
    This "Encyclopedia of Wars" identifies
    Verifiable wars 1,763
    And of these due to religion,
    Only 123.

  35. C Conroy

    September 19, 2019 4:04 pm

    Pilgrimage??? When was that ever mentioned as an option???? They were clearly responding to Spain’s invasion by muslims, the oppression of Christians like today, they wished to preserve the predominant Christian faith. It is a lot harder to regain numbers once they are lost. Ask the white population in general, christians and jews. And does anyone ever believe TV? Bc thats the only proof we have that the moon landing ever happened. Please research the info provided everywhere, including this video.

  36. edelachtbare100

    September 20, 2019 7:35 am

    It's a shame you didn't talk about the Muslim holywars into Europe much. Would really like to learn more about them.

  37. TheNuttingPuma

    September 20, 2019 9:15 pm

    Ha! the holy hand grenade doesn't actually exist? you obviously don't know what you're talking about let the crusades commence

  38. Travels World

    September 20, 2019 11:42 pm

    Interestingly and importantly no man has born smart as Siddhartha Gautama Buddha on earth yet and not completely understands by westerners and more intelligent than Jesus and Jesus rapist father god Yahweh and Buddha nature was the universe speaking the universe and not the Jewish god words.

  39. Roberto Simón García

    September 22, 2019 2:26 am

    John… Of course they believed in God and the crusades as its will, but those ideas (as every idea) come from a material reality. Our mind expresses ideas based in our experience caught by our senses… The belief of crusades came from the necessity of feudal system to expand its commercial routes; in fact, Palestine is the centre of the silk road, the access to Red Sea and India by Europe… The crusades had the same material motivation than the explorations of s. XVI

  40. ALEX poop

    September 26, 2019 10:33 am

    I read my crusades lessons when I was in 9th grade, somehow memorized them and I had to write an essay as a test. Got an A+, it was word for word like my schoolbook.n


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