Attack of the Crusaders on Constantinople, Geoffrey 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 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.
Paxton is a clinical associate professor in the department of history, associate dean of undergraduate studies, and director of the university honors program at The Catholic University of America.
10–11:15 a.m. The Theory of the Just War and the Origins of the Crusades
What made the leaders of the Catholic Church believe that they had the right to summon an army to conquer Jerusalem from its Muslim rulers? 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.
11:30 a.m.–12:45 p.m. The First Crusade
The First Crusade (1096–1099) succeeded despite itself—in part due to divisions within the Muslim world and the new campaigns that followed—and was the only unmitigated success. Paxton examines 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.
12:45–1:15 p.m. Break
1:15–2:30 p.m. The Rise of the Holy Wars
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.
2:45–4 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 concentrated on defending Europe itself from the aggressive Ottoman Turks. Paxton explores the ways in which both Westerners and Easterners use the legacy of the Crusades to suit their own political agendas.