- The crusading movement began when Pope Urban II (qq.v.) called the First Crusade (q.v.) at the Council of Clermont in 1095. The object was to regain Jerusalem (q.v.) from the forces of Islam (q.v.), and to aid the eastern church in the process. The conquest of Jerusalem by the First Crusade in 1099, its subsequent loss after the battle of Hattin (q.v.) in 1187, and further attempts to reconquer Jerusalem comprise the chief historical theme of the early Crusades. However, less obvious, but arguably more historically significant in the long run, is the threat that the Crusades posed to Byzantium (q.v.). For the first time in centuries, large numbers of westerners passed through Constantinople. Many viewed the Byzantines as heretics who had previously been condemned in the church schism of 1054 (q.v.). The First Crusade, which contained a contingent of Normans (q.v.), well-known enemies of Byzantium, were viewed as a menace by emperor Alexios I (qq.v.). Indeed, the Normans took advantage of the Second Crusade (q.v.) to attack Corinth and Thebes (qq.v.). The Third Crusasde (q.v.) resulted in the capture of Cyprus (q.v.) in 1191. With the Fourth Crusade (q.v.) the peril to Constantinople was realized. The conquest of the city in 1204 resulted in the Partitio Romaniae (q.v.), a triumph for the long-term commercial interests of Venice (q.v.), resulting in the destruction of Byzantium and the division of its empire among Venice (q.v.) and its partners. In sum, what the Crusades had attempted to support they ended up destroying; only in 1261 were forces from the Empire of Nicaea (q.v.) able to regain Constantinople. However, restored Byzantium never fully recovered from the destruction wrought by the Fourth Crusade. Other Crusades followed the Fourth Crusade, but in hindsight it can be argued that chief among the results of the entire crusading movement was not the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, but the conquest of Christian Byzantium in 1204. In a much larger historical context, the Crusades, especially the Fourth Crusade, can be seen as prototypes for later European expeditions for plunder and conquest. For example, in 1521 Hernán Cortés viewed his conquista of Mexico as the culmination of a glorious Crusade comprised of milites Christi ("Knights of Christ") who waged a just guerra santa ("holy war") against the hated "infidel."
Historical Dictionary of Byzantium . John H. Rosser .
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