Attack of the Crusaders on Constantinople, Geoffreoy de Villehardouin, Venice, ca. 1330
When the Byzantine Emperor Alexius called on Pope Urban II to send him aid against the Turks, he had no idea that he was setting in motion a movement that we now call the Crusades. What caused tens of thousands of Europeans to travel more than a thousand miles to try to reclaim Christian territory and, perhaps more importantly, save their souls?
The Europeans who settled in the Holy Land brought many Western-style institutions and customs with them, but they also acclimated in surprising ways to the very different culture they found there. The Muslim response to the Christian challenge was hampered by political infighting, but ultimately, local leaders were able to rally enough support to drive the last crusaders from Middle Eastern soil.
Historian Jennifer Paxton explores the origins of the Crusades, the complex relations between crusaders and their opponents, and their legacy for the modern world.
9:30–10:45 a.m. Just-War Theory and the Origins of the Crusades
What made the leaders of the Catholic Church believe they had the right to summon an army to reconquer Jerusalem from the Arabs? Learn how the theory of the just war combined with a warrior culture to produce an armed pilgrimage that astonished not just their Muslim opponents, but the Eastern Christians who had originally called on them for aid.
11 a.m.–12:15 p.m. The First Crusade
The First Crusade (1096–1099) succeeded in spite of itself, in part due to divisions within the Muslim world, and of all the campaigns that followed, it was the only unmitigated success. Learn how the crusaders established an outpost of European society in the Holy Land and adapted to life in their new home and explore the origins of the famous military orders of monks, the Knights Templar and the Hospitallers.
12:15–1:30 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own)
1:30–2:45 p.m. The Rise of Jihad
The response of the indigenous inhabitants of the Middle East to the arrival of Westerners took half a century to coalesce, but from the mid-12th century onward, the crusaders were largely on the defensive. The Second Crusade failed to recapture the crusader stronghold of Edessa, while the Third Crusade, noted for the fiery rivalry between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, merely staved off the complete annihilation of the crusader states without retaking Jerusalem.
3–4:15 p.m. Crusading Redefined
After 1200, crusading was redefined to include heretics and those on the fringes of Europe who had never inhabited Christian territory. By the end of the crusading period, Europeans had all but abandoned hope of reestablishing a Christian presence in the Middle East and were concentrating on defending Europe itself from the aggressive Ottoman Turks. Explore the ways in which both Westerners and Easterners use the legacy of the Crusades to suit their own political agendas.
Paxton is clinical assistant professor in the department of history and director of the university honors program at The Catholic University of America.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
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Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)