Prologue of the Crusades: Jerusalem and the Seljuks

"When the Muslim Seljuks, a Turkish steppe tribe, spectacularly defeated an army of the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Manzikert in ancient Armenia in August 1071 CE, a series of events followed which would lead to centuries of East-West warfare couched in religious terms: the Crusades.

The Seljuks created the Sultanate of Rum and conquered Byzantine Edessa and Antioch in 1078 CE. Next, they captured Jerusalem from their rival Muslims, the Fatimids of Egypt, in 1087 CE (the city had been in Muslim hands since the 7th century CE).

Alexios I Komnenos, the Byzantine emperor (r. 1081-1118 CE) realised that Seljuk expansion into the Holy Land was a perfect opportunity to gain the help of western armies in his battle to control Asia Minor and so he sent a direct appeal to Pope Urban II in March 1095 CE. Both the Pope and western knights would respond in a far greater capacity than Alexios could ever have imagined.

Urban II was disposed to give military assistance to the Byzantines for various reasons. A crusade to bring the Holy Land back under Christian control was an end in itself - what better way to protect such important sites as the tomb of Jesus Christ, the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Christians living there or visiting on pilgrimage also required protection.

In addition, there were very useful additional benefits. A crusade would increase the prestige of the Papacy, as it led a combined western army, and consolidate its position in Italy itself, having experienced serious threats from the Holy Roman Emperors in the previous century which had even forced the popes to relocate away from Rome. Urban II also hoped to make himself head of a united Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) Christian church, above the Patriarch of Constantinople. The two churches had been split since 1054 CE over disagreements about doctrine and liturgical practices."

Quotes and illustration from Cartwright, M. (2018, October 22). Council of Clermont. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from This quote is licensed under equal terms as the original publication, being Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike.

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