Undoubtedly, one of the most important historical events of the Middle Ages was the Crusades. In this article, for a brief overview of the history of these wars, Nehru’s 62nd letter to his daughter is included in the book “Glimpses of world history”, in which these wars are briefly examined.
Letter date: June 19, 1932
“In one of my recent letters I wrote to you that the Pope and the Council of the Christian Church of Rome declared a religious jihad and a holy war against the Muslims and for the salvation and liberation of the city of Jerusalem. The growing power of the Seljuk Turks terrified all of Europe, and especially the Christian government of Constantinople, which was in direct danger to them. The story of the Turks’ mistreatment against Christian pilgrims who were going to Jerusalem and Palestine provoked and angered European people. Thus, the jihad and the holy war of the Christians were declared, and the Pope and the Church of Christianity invited all the Christians of Europe to take action to help that holy city.
Thus, in 1095, the Crusades began, and for more than 150 years, the struggle between Christianity and Islam, and between the cross and the crescent, continued. There were long periods of rest between wars, but there was almost always a state of war, and mass of European Christians came one after the other to fight, and most of them wanted to die in the Holy Land.
These long battles did not bring any material results for the Crusaders. The city of Jerusalem fell to them for a short time, but soon the Turks recaptured it and it remained in their hands. One of the most important consequences of the Crusades was that it caused death, misery and homelessness for millions of Christians and Muslims, and the lands of Asia Minor and Palestine were irrigated with human blood.
Now let’s see what was the situation of the Baghdad Empire at that time?
The Abbasid were still at the head of this government. They were apparently caliphs and Amir al-Mu’minin, but in reality they were only nominal leaders and had no power. We have seen in the past how their great empire disintegrated, and gradually the governors of the various regions became independent. Mahmud of Ghazni, who repeatedly invaded India, was a powerful ruler who, although seemingly obedient to the caliph, threatened himself if the caliph did not act according to his wishes. Even in Baghdad itself, the Turks also were the real lord and ruler.
Then another branch of the Turks, called the Seljuks, came to power and soon established their power and triumphantly expanded behind the gates of Constantinople city. But ostensibly the Abbasid caliph was still a caliph and retained his caliphate, but had no political power. It was the caliph who gave the Seljuk chiefs the title of “sultan”, but in fact the government was also in the responsibility of this sultan. Thus the Crusaders had to fight the Seljuk sultans and their successors and did not deal directly with the caliphs.
In Europe, the Crusades strengthened the idea of a “Christian community,” and the word “Christianity” was used against all non-Christians. At that time, there was only one common thought and goal in all of Europe, and that was to liberate the “holy land” from the so-called infidels. This common thought filled the people with enthusiasm, and many people left their homes for the sake of their great purpose and went to war. Many of them had great and noble intentions. Many were fascinated by the pope’s promise that those who took part in these wars would be forgiven of all their sins.
Apart from these, there were other reasons for the Crusades. The Church of Rome wanted to assert its primacy over Constantinople suddenly. You must remember that the Church of Constantinople was different from the Church of Rome. The Church of Constantinople considered itself “orthodox” and real, disliked the Church of Rome, and considered the pope a parvenu. The pope wanted to put an end to this selfishness of Constantinople and even make Constantinople one of his followers. Therefore, under the title and appearance of a holy jihad against the infidel Turks, he wanted to achieve what the popes had long dreamed of and to prove his priority.
In fact, this is always the way of politicians and all those who consider themselves politicians! We must keep in mind the differences and rivalries between Rome and Constantinople, because this has been obvious throughout the Crusades.
Another cause of the Crusades was trade. The merchants, and especially the merchants of the growing ports of “Venice” and “Genoa”, wanted these wars because their trade and commerce were in a state of disarray. The Seljuk Turks closed many of their trade routes to the East.
It is obvious that ordinary people were not aware of these reasons. No one told them the truth. Politicians often hide their true intentions under the glorious headings of religion, justice, truth, and like that. This was the case during the Crusades and it still is. People are taking part in those wars because of the good deeds and good looks of politicians, and still a huge majority of people are drawn into bloody adventures in the same way.
Thus, large crowds gathered to take part in the Crusades. Among them were benevolent people who went to war because of their enthusiasm, but there were also many who had no spiritual thought at all, and only the hope of looting and plundering and gaining wealth led them to war.
Seventy years later, the city of Jerusalem was taken back from the Christians by the Sultan of Egypt, “Salah ad-Din”, and this incident again provoked the Christians, resulting in several other crusades. This time some of the kings and emperors of Europe also went to war in person, but did not achieve significant success. They fought more with themselves and competed for leadership.
The Crusades are the bitter and unfortunate story of bloody and cruel wars, insults and insidious conspiracies, and vile and cowardly crimes. But sometimes the good and noble aspects of human nature overcame these horrors and vices, and there were times when the enemies treated each other politely and humbly.
Among the Christian kings who ruled in Palestine, King Richard of England, nicknamed the “Lionheart “, is famous for his physical strength and courage.
“Salah ad-Din” was also a brave warrior known for his manliness and chivalry. Even the crusaders who fought with Salah ad-Din praised his chivalry and manliness.
It is said that once Richard became seriously ill and suffered from heat, when “Salah ad-Din” heard this he sent him some ice and snow that they had brought from the mountains. At that time, they could not make artificial ice with electric refrigerators as they do today, so agile messengers and servants had to get snow and ice from mountains and glaciers.
There are many stories left from the time of the Crusades. You may have read Walter Scott’s book “The Talisman”, which contains some of these stories.
A group of Crusaders also went to Constantinople and conquered the city, and they expelled the Greek emperor from the Eastern Roman Empire, established a Latin government there, and formalized the Roman Catholic religion. There was terrible bloodshed and massacres in Constantinople, and a part of the city was set on fire by the Crusaders, but this Latin government did not last long in Constantinople. The Greeks of the Eastern Roman Empire that were weakened returned about fifty years later and overthrew that Latin government.
The Eastern Roman Empire lasted another two hundred years until the Turks finally ended it in 1453 AD.
The conquest of Constantinople by soldiers and crusaders illustrates well how the Church of Rome and the Pope wanted to spread and establish their influence there. Although the Christian Greeks of Constantinople sought help from Rome when they were terrified of the Turks, they did not help the Crusaders much and did not like them very much.
It must be said that the most horrible crusades are what is called the children’s crusades. Many teenagers, most of them was French and some German, out of excitement, they left home and families and moved to Palestine to take part in the Crusades. But many died on the way and some of them got lost.
Most of them, when they arrived at the port of “Marseille” in the south of France, their enthusiasm were abused by the swindlers who deceived them and instead of taking them to the “Holy Land”, they were taken to Egypt and sold there as slaves.
“Richard” King of England was captured by his enemies on his way back from Palestine to Eastern Europe and was released on a very large ransom. One of the French kings was also arrested in Palestine itself and was forced to pay a heavy ransom. Frederick Barbarossa (red beard), one of the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, drowned in a river in Palestine. By passing time, the fascination that existed at the beginning of the Crusades was gone. People got tired of these wars. The city of Jerusalem remained in Muslim hands, but the kings and people of Europe were no longer willing to spend their lives and wealth to conquer it. Jerusalem was still in Muslim hands for 700 years until a British general liberated it from Turkish occupation during World War I in 1918.
One of the last crusades was very interesting and unusual. In fact, that event cannot be considered a crusade in the old sense, because Emperor Frederick II, King of German of Holy Roman Empire, came to Palestine for this war, but instead of fighting, he went to see the king who was then king of Egypt and made a friendly relationship with each other! Frederick was an extraordinary person. At a time when most kings lacked knowledge and culture, he knew several languages, including Arabic. He was considered “one of the wonders of the world.” He did not care about the pope’s orders and that is why the pope declared him an apostate. But this pope’s action did not have much effect on him either.
Thus the general crusades failed, but these constant battles weakened the Seljuk Turks. Even more important fact was that feudalism shook the foundations of the Seljuk Empire. The great Seljuk rulers and feudal lords practically considered themselves independent and fought with each other. Sometimes their work got to the point where they even asked for help from their own Christian enemies. It was this internal weakness of the Turks that sometimes caused them to lose against the Crusaders. But whenever a strong and powerful ruler like “Salah ad-Din Ayyubi” was found, he could gather the scattered forces and succeed.
Interestingly, Trevelyan says: “The Crusades were a military and religious manifestation from a general need that drew Europe’s newly revived forces to the east. Europe was unable to liberate the “Holy Sepulcher” through the Crusades, and also Christian unity was not achieved through these wars. Throughout the continuous history of those wars, this fact is stated. The main reward that Europe brought with it from the Crusades was its familiarity with Eastern civilization. “After these wars, fine arts, artistic crafts, luxury, science, and intellectual curiosity came to Europe, and these were all things that ” Peter the Hermit” and the church leaders despised.”
Salah al-Din died in 1193, and what was left of the old Arab empire gradually disintegrated and divided. In many parts of West Asia, small tribal monarchies emerged and insecurity spread.
The last crusade took place in 1249. The war was fought under the command of King Louis IX of France, who was defeated and captured.
During this period, great events took place in East and Central Asia. The Mongols revolted under the command of a great leader, “Genghis Khan”, and they covered the entire eastern horizon of Asia as black clouds. Both the Crusaders and their opponents, both Christians and Muslims, were terrified of this new invading force. I will talk about Genghis and the Mongols in one of my next letters.
There is another point I would like to make before concluding this letter:
At that time in Bukhara, in Central Asia, lived a very great medic who was famous throughout Asia and Europe. His name was “Ibn Sina”, which in Europe is called Avicenna. He was dubbed the “King of Physicians” and died in 1037, before the Crusades began.
I mentioned Ibn Sina name because of his great fame, but you have to keep in mind that at that time, even when the Arab Empire was declining, Arab civilization flourished in West Asia and part of Central Asia.
Salah al-Din, the Muslim king although was heavily involved in the Crusades, built numerous schools and hospitals. However, this civilization was on the verge of a sudden collapse and extinction. “Because the Mongols were moving from the east and coming forward.”
Source: Glimpses of World History, by Jawaharlal Nehru, translated by Mahmoud Tafazoli, Amirkabir Publications, Volume One.