The Crusades serve as a powerful vehicle in demonstrating Europe's development into contemporary history. It is a time of consolidation of power, religious division, technological development, military expansion, cross-cultural interaction and global trade. In teaching the Crusades, it is important to outline the reasons for the Crusades as well as the impact on European society.
Pope Urban II, calling for the reclaiming of Palestine as well as the Holy City of Jerusalem, launched the Crusades in 1095. The Crusades were financially backed by predominantly English and French monarchies as well as the Holy Roman Empire. The motivations behind the Crusades are heavily debated; however, they can be described as being three-fold: religious, political and economic.
First, the Catholic Church was faced with much skepticism in its ability to provide an outlet for the poor laymen (A person who is not a member of the clergy nor has the financial means to live a pious life to obtain salvation). Additionally, Urban II was greatly concerned about the civil violence in Europe and hoped that such energy could be focused on fighting against the Muslims in the Holy Land, ". . .you kill and devour each other, and carry on war and mutually destroy each other. Let your hatred and quarrels cease, your civil wars come to an end, and all your dissensions stop. Set out on the road to the holy sepulcher, take the land from that wicked people (the Muslims) and make it your own" (Trans. Thatcher, O.J. and E.H. McNeal.
A Source Book for Medieval History: Selected Documents Illustrating the History of Europe in the Middle Ages
. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905, pp. 516 - 21). Therefore, in an effort to assert his religious authority amongst the public, the Urban II called for the Crusades to the Holy Land in an effort to provide a pilgrimage in which the laymen could achieve salvation as well as to reduce violence breaking out in Europe.
Second, many European territories and monarchies were engaged in competition to increase their holdings in the Holy Land (Riley-Smith, Jonathan.
The Crusades: A Short History
. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987, p. 171 - 172). Additionally, with the impending threat of Turkish control extending into the Byzantine Empire (current day Greece), the Western European powers responded with support from the Catholic Church to protect Christendom in the Eastern Empire (Byzantine Empire which controlled modern-day Turkey).
Third, the possibility of gaining access to Islamic markets and trade routes to China would allow for the introduction of new goods as well as markets to sell European goods (Bentley, Jerry H. and Herbert F. Ziegler.
Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past
Volume I: From the Beginnings to 1500,
2nd Ed., Boston: McGraw Hill, 2003, p. 542). Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, was an economic center since most trade routes intersected here, allowing for the cross-cultural exchange of goods and ideas.
While the European powers were unsuccessful in gaining and holding onto lands in the Islamic territories, the Crusades serve as an example of European cultural and economic expansion. The cultural and intellectual ideas coming from Islamic lands such as philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, and science benefited Europe greatly in its own development. Additionally, the introduction of new agricultural and trade goods such as spices, coffee, granulated sugar, silk products, and cotton textiles into European markets increased the demand for trade as well as Europe's economic development. This cross-cultural exchange of goods and ideas helped shape European society as well as encouraged further exploration of new lands for trade and expansion of the European empire.