The First Crusade took place between 1095-1099 and was launched under the support of Pope Urban II and the Roman Catholic Church to regain control of Jerusalem, liberate the Holy Sepulchre from the Moslems, and to help the Byzantines fight the infidel Seljuk Turks advancing into the heart of Eastern Christendom .
The crusade was started as a Peoples Crusade led by a radical monk named Peter the Hermit at the head of an army of raging followers. Once in Anatolia and around Nicea , the first capital of the Seljuks in Anatolia, they started pillaging and massacrating indiscriminately, making more victims among the Byzantine christians. Seljuk leader Kılıç Arslan I , realizing the danger, ambushed this army of ragtag pilgrims, killing most of them.
The real army of Knights-Crusaders assembled at Constantinople in 1097. Besides Bishop Adhémar of Le Puy , the spiritual leader, the crusade was led by Godfrey of Bouillon , his brother Baldwin of Boulogne and Sicilo-Norman Bohemond of Taranto , to whom Byzantine Emperor Alexis I Comnenus , who did not trust them, demanded to take an oath of non-aggression which was hardly respected. Joined by Raymond of Toulouse , Robert of Normandy and Hugh of Vermandois , they marched on Nicea, but Alexis had already negotiated the release, without ransom, of the family of Kılıç Arslan who was in the east and could not arrive in time to defend the city. Feeling that they were cheated, the dislike of the crusaders for the Byzantine Emperor grew even more after this.
The Crusaders decided to split the forces: Bohemond was regarded as the leader of the first army and Raymond of Toulouse the leader of the second one. From Nicaea, they proceeded to march through Anatolia. The first major victory they won against the Turks in July 1097 at Dorylaeum (near Eskişehir ), allowed them to march almost unopposed on their way to Antioch . After 300 years of Arab domination, the city had been retaken by the Byzantines in 969, then in 1079 had fallen to the Armenians, and was in the hands of the Seljuk Turks since 1084 when the Crusaders arrived. Bohemond besieged Antioch in October 1097. The well-fortified city, which could not be taken by force, fell on June 3, 1098 with the help of Firouz, an Armenian who allowed the crusaders inside the walls . Antioch was to become a Frankish principality for 170 years. After Bohemond was captured by Malik Shah in 1100, his nephew Tancred became regent then prince, but later dynastic rivalries followed marking this period. In 1098, Edesse fell to Baldwin of Boulogne and was to become a county for almost 50 years.
The second group marched its way from Antioch in January 1099 down the coast: Raymond of Toulouse headed towards Tripoli, and Godfrey of Bouillon towards Jerusalem , which he conquered and pillaged, slaughtering both Jewish and Muslim population. However Godfrey refused to take the title of King, saying that no man should wear a crown where Christ had worn his crown of thorns; instead, he took the title Defender of the Holy Sepulchre . When he died the next year, his brother and successor, Baldwin I , not being so scrupulous, had himself immediately crowned King of Jerusalem . He expanded the Kingdom, capturing the port cities of Acre , Sidon and Beirut . Tyre was taken later by his successor and cousin Baldwin II .
The First Crusade was to be the only one to succeed in its objectives.

Conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders, miniature

For the defense of these conquests and to ensure the safety of European pilgrims that flowed towards Jerusalem , two main military orders were created. The Knights Templar Order ( the Templars) was founded in 1118 by Hugh of Payens, its first Grand Master, and eight companions who bound themselves by a perpetual vow, taken in the presence of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. The Order of the Hospital of St. John, or Knights Hospitaller Order (1113), was originally dedicated to nurturing and nursing the sick and wounded, and evolved to include an armed escort to pilgrims.

Templars seal «Sigillum Militum Christi»

Seal of Bohemond III Prince of Antioch

The Second Crusade was preached by Bernard of Clairvaux on behalf of pope Eugenius III . The crusade took place between 1145-48 after Edessa ( the weakest and least latinized Crusader state) was recaptured by Zengi , the Atabey of Mosul and Aleppo. The crusade was headed by the King of the Romans Conrad III of Hohenstaufen and Louis VII of France . When the German army was annihilated on Turkish territory by Seljuk Sultan Mesud I in October 1147 at the Battle of Dorylaeum ( Eskişehir ), Conrad fled to Nicea where he met the King of France. While Conrad, fallen ill, returned to Constantinople from where he proceeded to the Holy Land by ship, Louis VII went overland. In January 1148, on their way to Attalaia ( Antalya ), the French infantry was attacked and decimated by the Turks. Louis VII decided to take his own household and as many knights as he could, boarded ships, and set off for Antioch , arriving on March 19, 1148. The remnant of the Crusaders set out on foot for Antioch but fewer than half of them ever reached the city, arriving there in late spring. In early summer, at last Louis arrived in Jerusalem where he met Conrad. From there they intended to attack Damascus which was the main threat for Jerusalem, but within a couple of days they suffered so much loss that they decided to return home. The Second Crusade was a failure.

The Third Crusade (1189-92) was launched after Jerusalem had been recaptured by the armies of Islam under Saladin , the first Ayyubid sultan. It was conducted by the Duke of Swabia, King of the Romans and German Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa , who was the first to depart. He chose to passed through Anatolia with his army, and entering Byzantine land, he captured Philippopolis (Bulgaria) and Hadrianopolis ( Edirne ) but he did not linger on the way because he learnt Emperor Isaac II Angelus had made a secret treaty with Saladin. Frederick took the Seljuk capital of Konya on May 18, 1189 but drowned in the Calycadnos river (Göksu) in 1190 . Without his leadership, his troops broke up and were quickly defeated.
King of France Philip II Augustus and King of England Richard I the Lion-hearted travelled by sea. After spending a few month in Sicily, Philip August sailed directly to Tyr but Richard captured Cyprus (that he later sold to nominal King of Jerusalem, Guy of Lusignan) and landed at Acre where he joined the siege. The Third Crusade also failed because the Crusaders could not retake Jerusalem, but Richard and Saladin finalized a treaty by which the city would remain under Muslin control and allow unarmed Christian Pilgrims to visit it. A coastal strip from Ascalon to Antioch was restored to Crusader control and Saint-Jean d'Acre became the nominal capital of the remnant of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.


The fourth Crusade was originally designed in 1198 by Pope Innocent III (who spent most of his pontificate preaching a Crusade) to conquer Egypt and reconquer Jerusalem. It was the last of the major crusades to be directed by the Papacy, before the Popes lost much of their power to the Holy Roman Empire and other secular monarchs. In 1201, the Doge of Venice Enrico Dandolo made an agreement with French lords to provide ships for transport and warships, and also to take part in any conquests during the crusade. At the time, relations between Constantinople and Venice were not good. Venice had long enjoyed special trading rights in the city, but lately she had seen her privileges reduce. Emperor Manuel I Comnenus who had been thinking of reconquering the Roman Empire by force, and especially Italy, had ordered a mass arrest of Venetians throughout the Empire in 1171, and a great number of Latins in Constantinople were massacred in 1182. Isaac II Angelus renewed their privileges, but Alexius III Angelus harassed the Venetians, favoring the Genoeses and Pisans. Due to events happening in Constantinople, the Fourth Crusade quickly fell out of Papal control and took a dramatic turn away from Palestine. Diverting the crusade first to Zara (Croatia), in 1204 t he Crusaders ended by attacking and sacking Constantinople , driving out the Byzantine Emperor and installing one of their own instead. The conquest of Constantinople , in April 1204, marked the end of the Fourth Crusade. 

1204 - Conquest of Constantinople by the Crusaders, miniature.

The Fifth Crusade , which did not pass through Anatolia, was the last general crusade Europe mounted. Pope Innocent III called for it in 1215 at the Fourth Lateran Council but died in 1216 without seeing results. Honorius III took over but few monarchs answered his call. However in 1217, Leopold VI of Austria was the first to depart and was followed by Andrew II of Hungary , Hugh I of Cyprus and Bohemond IV of Antioch . In addition, small armies of French and German barons, counts and lords sailed from Italy to Acre where they also joined John of Brienne , the nominal King of Jerusalem. During the winter of 1217-1218, they only fought small-scale operations but they knew that there was no point in attacking Jerusalem as long as Egypt was strong. They decided to attack Egypt beginning their siege of Damietta, but the Christian forces had weakened considerably since Andrew, Bohemond and Hugh had returned home early in 1218. Pope Honorius III, agreeing with Innocent III's opinion that a Crusade would succeed only when it was led by the Church, in September 1218, sent an army led by Cardinal Pelagius who now emerged as the leader of the Christians. The Crusaders took Damietta in November 1219, but diseases killed many of them. The Sultan offered to surrender the entire territory of the kingdom of Jerusalem if the Crusaders left Egypt. King John agreed but Cardinal Pelagius rejected the offer and decided to attack Cairo. In spite of the reinforcements they received from Emperor Frederick II (who himself did not come), their march to Cairo was disastrous. As a result, on August 1221, the Crusaders were forced to a peace agreement by Sultan Al-Kamil and Damietta was returned to the Egyptians. The crusaders left for home, having failed once again.

The Sixth Crusade was led between 1228-1229 by the King of Sicily, King of the Romans and German Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen , who had not joined the Fifth Crusade for domestic political reasons . In 1225 he married Yolande of Jerusalem , daughter of John of Brienne , the nominal King of Jerusalem. Having been a long time under papal pressure, Frederick had now a good opportunity to fulfill the crusading vow he had taken in 1215 and again in 1220 . In 1227, he was about to set sail when he fell ill and was excommunicated by Gregory IX because of all the years of repeated delays. Ignoring the pope's decision, he finally left in June 1228. In the meantime, his wife Yolanda, Queen of Jerusalem, died as a result of giving birth to their son Conrad . The Emperor arrived at Acre in September but found the Templars, Hospitallers and local barons reluctant to cooperate with an excommunicant . As he had little opportunity to wage war in these conditions, he conducted his crusade by dipomatic negotations with Al-Kamil , the Ayyubid sultan of Egypt. A treaty was signed, by the terms of which Jerusalem , Bethlehem and Nazareth were returned to the Christians . In return, the Moslems were allowed free access to and within the city where they retained their possessions. Also, a ten-year truce was concluded which would allow Al-Kamil to concentrate on re-uniting Syria with Egypt. Frederick II entered Jerusalem on March 17, 1229. Because both the pope and Patriarch of Jerusalem condemned the treaty, he crowned himself King of Jerusalem on March 18. Legally, however, he was actually regent for his son, the future Conrad IV . But Jerusalem was placed under interdict by the patriarch. By liberating Jerusalem, Frederick had only succeeded in making himself hated by most of the Palestinian barons. He left in May 1229 to deal with the threat of the pope who had proceeded to attack his Italian possessions.

Plenty of crusades followed, but t he Seventh Crusade was the last of the major crusades.

The Seventh Crusade was undertaken upon Louis IX of France's (St. Louis) own initiative after Jerusalem was retaken by the Moslems in 1244. Louis IX took the cross in 1244, but did not leave until 1248. He sailed to Cyprus where he was joined by the Grand Master of the Hospital, the Grand Master of the Temple, and many of the Palestinian barons. Egypt again was the object of attack because if it was defeated, the future of the Holy Land would be assured. Damietta fell again in June 1249. Old sultan Ayub , who died in November, offered Jerusalem for Damietta but the Crusaders, quite sure to have an advantage over the Egyptians and their Mamluke (slave soldiers) army, refused and led an expedition to Cairo. They won a victory upon Egyptian commander Fakhr ad-Din who was killed, but in February 1250, t he king's brother, Robert of Artois and the Templars were trapped and killed in Mansourah by new Mamluke leader Baibars . Turanshah , summonned by the sultana, arrived from Syria to Cairo and captured Louis IX and his retreating army. In May a revolution occured leading to a new split between Cairo and Damascus: ill-treated by the sultan, the Mamlukes revolted and Baibars killed Turanshah. The Mamlukes would now rule here for almost three hundred years as the slave-sultans. Damietta was surrendered to the Egyptians, and Louis IX was released in exchange of a high ransom of which only a half was paid. He sailed for Acre and remained in the Holy Land until 1254, helping to strengthen the fortifications of the Christian colonies. In 1251, Louis IX promised to aid the Mamlukes at Cairo against the Ayyubids at Damascus and negociated an exchange of prisonners and the lifting of the rest of the ransom. In 1253, Yusuf , a great-grandson of Saladin, appealed to the Caliph at Baghdad to arbitrate between himself and the Mamluke Sultan. The Caliph was more concerned to unite them against the invading Mongols and the alliance with the Christians was forgotten. Louis returned to France in April 1254.

The Eighth Crusade was undertaken in 1270 by Louis IX of France, haunted by his failure, in reaction to the fall of Jaffa and Antioch . He attacked Tunis in the first place and gained a victory, but the crusade was cut short when he died of a fever in August 1270.

The Ninth Crusade was led between 1271–1272 by Prince Edward (later Edward I of England). He landed at Acre but retired the following year after concluding a truce. In 1289 Tripoli fell to the Moslems, and in 1291 Acre , the last Christian stronghold, followed. After the fall of Acre, no further Crusades were undertaken in the Holy Land, although several were preached.