In the middle ages, religion played a key part in both igniting tempers and justifying violent acts. The motives that brought about the Crusades have been either interpreted as a courageous effort in dispelling “infidels” in the Holy Land, or an attempt to expand papal power and accommodate the growing European economy (Crusades). Because the idea of taking back the Holy Land for Christ appealed to the European masses, those in leadership positions chose to present the military expeditions as a religious cause even though their real purpose was far less admirable. Despite an extreme Christianity-based zeal and the perceived need to defend said religion fueling the outbreak of the Crusades, the European leaders actually desired the power and the materialistic gains that they hoped would stem from the war, thereby manipulating the public in the process.
With church power waning as time passed, the papacy needed a way to spread its influence once more and felt the best way to do that would be to bring the people together under a cause to protect their religion. When Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095, he preached about Muslims supposedly mistreating Christians visiting the Holy Land and the necessity of recapturing Jerusalem for Christianity (“Crusades”). Latching onto the few occurrences of past Muslim aggression, the pope told horrifying stories of Islamic violence toward Christian pilgrims and thus aroused Christian indignation (Biel). By the time Pope Urban II began his rabble-rousing, Muslims had largely since stopped the hostility toward Christians, as they saw the “wealth” that resulted from visiting Europeans (“Religious Crusades”). Pope Urban II neglected to mention this fact to a public who could not know better, thus shaping their opinions in his favor.
The pope, as well as others who held high positions in religion, delivered the final piece of propaganda to the masses, promising a “remission of sins for those who participated” in the war (“Crusades”). Religious leaders wielded this vow of salvation masterfully, causing thousands of Europeans to join the armies marching to the Middle East. In the church’s manipulation of such a precious gift, the public was under the papal power’s thumb, and church influence was once more secure.
While the church remained “corrupt and politically motivated”, other powers, such as Alexius I of Constantinople, saw the political and economic advantages (“Crusades and the Church”). The Byzantine Empire had lost land from invading Seljuk Turks, and Alexius used “the Crusaders as pawns in order to achieve his goals […] [by pressuring] the Crusaders into turning into him any former Byzantine territory they captured” (Crusades). Alexius had appealed to Pope Urban II for help from the Muslim invaders, and the pope used his growing influence and his promises of eternal salvation to ship the European soldiers to Byzantium (“Religious Crusades”). Both the pope and the Byzantine emperor manipulated the Crusaders into fulfilling their own selfish desires under the disguise of protecting the Christian faith; Alexius took back his lost land, and the pope happily exercised his control of public opinion.
“Land-hungry knights and noblemen” saw the economic benefits as well (Crusades). Europe was experiencing extensive population increase and an escalation of commercial activity on the eve of the Crusades (“Crusades”). This made possible gains in land quite valuable to accommodate this growth. Merchants supported the pope’s mission as well as they acknowledged the Italian trading cities on the way would open new markets to western Europe (Crusades). The chance of an advance in wealth kept protests of the war from happening.
Eventually, the pretense of the Crusades having a noble, holy purpose began to crumble. During the Fourth Crusade, the Crusaders, under the direction of greedy Venetian powers, did not even make an attempt at Jerusalem and instead invaded and “pillaged” their supposed Christian brothers and allies in Constantinople (Crusades). With this betrayal, the Crusades’ real purpose was clear.
While the European subjects’ intense religious piety was admirable, it also allowed the common people to be taken advantage of by powerful papal and political powers. Despite Christian teachings of honesty, church leaders affirmed their position in Europe by handing out forgiveness in exchange for violence for their own gain. Other powers picked up where religious leaders left off, gathering land and thus funds, and opportunistic merchants, thirsting at new economic opportunity, supported the wars. By starting and fomenting the Crusades for their own selfish objectives, those in command in Europe exploited the masses under the guise of religious fervor.
Biel, Timothy Levi. The Crusades. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1995. Print.
“Crusades” World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. ABC-CLIO, 2011. Web. 24 Jan
Crusades. Funk & Wagnalls, 2011. Discovery Education. Web. 15 November 2010.
“Crusades and the Church” Free Essays, Cliff Notes and Term Paper Database. Web.
23 Jan 2011.
“Religious Crusades.” Paralumun. Web. 23 Jan 2011.