The Crusaders: Heroes or Villians? Part I

Author: Andrew Alleman


Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

John 15:13




The year was 1095 A.D. and Pope Urban the II’s voice thundered over the crowd, recounting to all who had gathered the attacks that had taken place in the Holy Land in recent memory. Forgiveness was declared to all whom would embark on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in order to recapture what had been taken and the first Crusaders then sowed crosses on their shirt sleeves. These cross patches were to be a symbol of dedication. They would respond to the call. Many Christian crusading knights left their family, their homes, their land, and their wealth behind for a chance to liberate Jerusalem from the Islamic Jihad forces that had invaded several centuries prior and many of them did not return home. Many knew that the chance of survival was unknown as they departed for the thousand-mile journey to stand against a threat that had conquered two-thirds of previously held Christian land. The Crusades officially began with Christian heroes laying down their lives, righteously defending Europe against an impeding onslaught, and routing an enemy who had been desecrating churches and torturing Christian pilgrims for centuries.


Hold on. Praise for the Crusades? I thought they were plundering, brutal, bigoted marauders out to attack a peaceful culture for land and loot!” If this thought was not your own, I have no doubt you’ve at least heard it before. Such is a common rebuttal I’ve personally heard a dozen times. Just this past year I was at a social gathering and developed an acquaintance with someone through discussion of history who genuinely believed the Crusades were an object of shame. “You don’t want to be associated with that!” A devoted believer of Christ in my own family thought basically the same, as I recently discovered in conversation. This person even had a seminary degree! Despite all his learning, he had never studied the Crusades, though that did not halt his default negative belief towards them. The pervasive lies and inversions of history concerning the Crusades continues to this day despite having been debunked by professional historians for decades.


Bill Clinton invoked the Crusades after the events of September 11th to lay guilt and blame on the past deeds of Christians, implying that our supposedly dreadful medieval history was the cause of the terrorist attack. Barack Obama followed suit in February of 2015 at the National Prayer Breakfast in defense of Jihadists who had been recording beheadings. “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” In 1999, The Guardian newspaper covered a story concerning a “Reconciliation Walk” of groups of “apologizers” for the Crusades, traveling from Cologne to Jerusalem. They even wore t-shirts expressing "A Pilgrimage of Apology". "We deeply regret the atrocities committed in the name of Christ by our predecessors- forgive us for allowing His name to be associated with death", a participant is quoted as saying. The New York Times ran a story also in 1999 comparing the Crusades to the actions of Hitler. Excuse me? Despite all, the actual historical account and ridiculous accusations have been corrected in recent years thanks to some outstanding professional researchers and university professors. Even so, many remain completely ignorant of the reality of the matter. Its high time every person be knowledgeable regarding these events and every Christian be granted permission to be proud of their real historical heritage: you do not have to apologize for your faith ancestry that saved European Civilization.


Early Islamic Jihad conquest first began with its expansion into Byzantine Syria in 633 A.D., more than 400 years before the 1st Crusade was even called for. Soon the city of Damascus was conquered in 635 and became at that time the capital of the Islamic Empire. A year later the Battle of Yarmuk took place in 636 against the Greeks. Proceeding from there was the attack on Persia, or what is now modern day Iraq. The Battle of Al-Qadisyyah also took place in 636 and the Islamic capital was then moved to Bagdad. That same year Muslim jihadists invaded Palestine, resulting in the surrender of Jerusalem in 638. Islam swiftly continued to invade west into Egypt in 639 and subsequently attacked the city of Alexandria, the second largest Christian city in the world in those times. The city of Carthage in North Africa was the next to fall in 698. From there Muslim forces proceeded north to occupy Sicily and Southern Italy, invading on four separate occasions in 652, 667, 720, and 827 A.D. The city of Palermo fell in 831, Taranto in 840, Syracuse in 878, and Taormina in 902. Southern Spain was also invaded in the 8th century by Muslims whom were dubbed Moors, and the area of what is now Pakistan was conquered in 711; the full expansion into India followed. The Islamic call for Holy War seemed unstoppable. Finally the city of Rome fell in 846, in which many Byzantine churches were ransacked and plundered.


Through these various seizures of control throughout the Holy Land and Southern Europe, dozens of atrocities and persecutions took place. Cities in Muslim control forbad the construction of new churches and instituted a tax called the “jizya” exclusively for non-Muslims. Jews and Christians alike were not permitted to pray or read scripture aloud anywhere, even in private. Those who refused to convert to Islam were labeled as “dhimmis”. In 705, Christian nobles in Armenia were burned to death inside a church. Sporadic mass murders of Christian monks and pilgrims were frequently documented during these times, contrary to contemporary claims of ancient Muslim tolerance. In the 8th century, groups of pilgrims were executed by the governor of Caesura. Pilgrims from Asia Minor were crucified in Jerusalem. The monastery of Saint Theodosius near Bethlehem was attacked and the monks massacred. In 796, the monks of the Monastery of Mar Shaba were burned to death. In 809, a slew of persecutions broke out in Jerusalem. In 923 on Palm Sunday, another fresh, unprovoked wave of atrocities broke out once again. Since the 7th century the Muslim Dome of the Rock sat in Jerusalem bearing the inscription “God has no son”. All this led up to the breaking point during the rule of Caliph Hakim, emerging in 996. He forced Christians to wear four-pound crosses around their necks and ordered the destruction of approximately 30,000 churches. What may have been the worst and most symbolic act of desecration however was the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. This was the church believed to be the very tomb Christ was laid in before rising again and long served as a beloved site of pilgrimage for Byzantine Christians. Hakim’s goal was to remove all memory and trace of it, digging down into the foundations to remove the underlaying cave beneath. Consequently and unsurprisingly this led to waves of anger as news of this circulated throughout Europe.


This backdrop contains a heavy load of history that may be dry to some, but is essential for understanding the precedent that had been set culminating in the First Crusade. In addition to all this, the greatest Christian city in the world at that time, Constantinople, was being attacked repeatedly through the centuries by Islamic forces, and thus Emperor Alexius eventually sent a letter to Pope Urban II imploring for help. The Pope made his famous speech at Clermont that circulated throughout Europe and first Crusaders famously pledged their dedication. In Part II we will explore the response of Christendom striking back, the various key battles that took place, the heroic figureheads involved, and the valiant efforts made to preserve Europe.




The History of Jihad: from Muhammed to Isis by Robert Spencer

God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades by Dr. Rodney Stark

A History of Palestine, 634–1099 by Moshe Gil

A Concise History of the Crusades by Dr. Thomas Madden

Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History by Dr. Rodney Stark


Self-Evident Ministries


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