The crusades and the Latin East

"How damaging was the failure of the Second Crusade in the Latin East?"

The news of the heavy defeat at Hattin and the subsequent fall of Jerusalem was a huge blow to Western Christendom as well as along its borders in the Latin East. Naturally, the Christian military presence in Syria and Palestine bore the physical brunt of the defeats and the failure of the Second Crusade; however, it could be argued that Christianity itself was hit hardest in the long term. In religious and political terms, the Second Crusade was to have negative connotations across the whole of Christendom, not just purely in the East. Riley-Smith states that: "The news of the catastrophe at Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem reached the West in the early autumn of 1187. The old Pope, Urban III, died, it was said of grief, on the 20th October."[1] The battle of Hattin effectively signalled the beginning of the downfall of the Second Crusade, allowing Saladin free reign in the region. The few remaining Christian controlled cities and fortresses were focusing their remaining garrisons and limited supplies solely on defence. There was no hope of any Christian counter attack or attempts at regaining territory from within the Latin East without the aid of Western Europe; there just simply wasn't enough manpower in the region. The period following the Second Crusade was one of great political and religious turmoil in Western Europe, the extent to which the failure of the Crusade was responsible for this remains to be seen. With this in mind, how damaging was the failure of the Second Crusade in the Latin East, and how far did its affect on Western Europe influence the crisis in the Latin East?

The period shortly after the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the Second Crusade was a difficult and testing time for the precious few Christians who remained in the Latin East. From a strategic point of view, Tyre was the only remaining city on the Palestinian coast, still under the control of the Christians. This made the prospect of Western Europe sending aid even more difficult, travelling by sea was previously the safest way to reach the Holy land, as was recognised during the First Crusade. In the wake of the Second Crusade, Conrad of Montferrat had travelled to the region with a small contingent of troops and limited supplies to aid the Christian cause. He was one of the first of the consequent, small scale crusading parties to travel to the region and immediately undertook the leadership of the defence of Tyre. Despite doing a relatively effective job in terms of defence with the limited resources he had at his disposal, he recognised immediately that the Christians needed aid from Western Europe and began his appeal for help. This was a major issue as although it was widely recognised across Western Christendom that a crusading force should be sent to the region as soon as possible, a dangerously low level of morale amongst the Christian leaders of Europe and the Papacy prevented this from occurring straight away. The notion that low morale was one of the factors responsible for the lack of support being sent to Palestine and Syria is supported by Riley-Smith, who states: "The failure of the Second Crusade ushered in a period in which for nearly forty years Christian demoralisation was reflected in a low level of crusading."[2] As the crisis in the East continued, the Christians persisted in sending embassies to the West in hopes of aid, but with little success.

The crusader states urgently required assistance from the West or faced losing their remaining territories. Before his death, Urban III had addressed the effects of failure on Christendom in a letter, almost certain written by him before his death. A brief extract from this letter shows that he believed an expedition should be sent to the region as an act of penance: "Faced by such great distress concerning that land, moreover, we ought to consider not only the sins of its inhabitants but also our own and those of the whole Christian people...we should first amend in ourselves that we have done wrong and then turn our attention to the treachery and malice of the enemy." [3] Although it was clear that a third crusade was necessary internal political struggles and low morale amongst the leaders of the Christian states in the West meant that a large scale crusade to the East did not take place until the Third Crusade of 1197.

Not only were the physical effects of failure present in the crusader states, actions that took place left a bitter taste in the mouths of one of Christendom's key allies in the region. During the Second Crusade, the crusaders made a grave error that would later return to haunt them. The crusading armies attacked their allies at Damascus. The remaining crusader states were left to pick up the pieces of a shattered relationship. Madden points out that: "While Europe mourned the defeat of the Second Crusade, the crusader states were left with its bitter legacy. The people of Damascus now deeply distrusted the Christians."[4] The crusader states had all but lost a powerful ally in the region. The distrust was so great that during Baldwin III's siege of Ascalon, Nur ad-Din was able to march to Damascus in response to their calls for help, as Baldwin had no resources by which to defend it. After the capture of Ascalon, the people of Damascus opened their gates to Nur ad-Din with little opposition. Nur ad-Din was now an extremely powerful enemy, controlling all of Muslim Syria.

The fall of Jerusalem was not merely a loss of territory; it was as symbolic to the Muslims as it was for the Christians. Evidently the site was of great religious importance to Christian and Muslims alike, but it was more than just a religious site, it was "a symbol of strength and unity."[5] The city of Jerusalem itself was of little importance in terms of strategic positioning and economic viability, however, it was of great religious significance outlined in the Papal Bull of Pope Gregory VIII (1187): "Lord, the nations have invaded thy heritage, they have profaned thy holy temple; Jerusalem is no more than a desert, and the bodies of the saints have served as pasture to the Beasts of the earth, and to the birds of the heavens."[6] The capture of the city brought unity to the Muslims whilst unity amongst the crusader states collapsed.

It could be argued that the Second Crusade was also responsible for drastic and damaging change to crusading theory. The emphasis on Islam as the common enemy of Christendom began to change toward Byzantium. Brundage suggests that: "The crusade further strained relations between Byzantium and the West - so much so that many in Europe now viewed Byzantium, not Islam as the real enemy of the crusader states."[7] This had a negative effect on the Latin East as in reality; it was the Muslims who posed a greater threat to the crusader states.

In conclusion, the Second Crusade was cataclysmically damaging to the Latin East. Not only were the vast majority of crusader territories, including Jerusalem, lost, the legacy itself had a long lasting effect on the whole of Christendom which changed the actual nature and motivation of crusading. Riley-Smith suggests that Urban III's 'Audita tremendi', which spoke of the failures of the crusade "marked an important stage in the development of crusading thought, for the papacy was now associating success in war directly with the spiritual health of all of Christianity."[8] With hindsight, it is fair to say that it would have been more advantageous for the crusader states had the Second Crusade never happened. The extent of the damage to the both the Latin East and West is well documented by J. A Brundage who states: "The Second Crusade was a dismal failure. Edessa remained in Muslim hands. Louis VII's four day siege of Damascus served only to strengthen the position of Nur ad-Din, as the people of this city, previously allied with the kingdom of Jerusalem, turned to the Muslim leader for help. Moreover, the crusade further strained relations between Byzantium and the West...The Failure of the crusade was met with disbelief and anger in the West, and blame was freely distributed."[9] Fundamentally, the crusade crippled the Christian crusader states in the Latin East and left them in a political, military, and religious crisis from which they did not soon recover. Perhaps one of the precious few benefits that arose from failure was that it aided Christian leaders in the West in raising an army to embark on the Third Crusade which was much greater than any other crusading expedition before it.

Bibliography

Text Books and Secondary Sources:
  • A. Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary Survey, (Milwaukee: The Marquette University Press, 1962)
  • F. Madden, The New Concise History of the Crusades, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006)
  • J. Richard, The Crusades: c. 1071 - c. 1291, (Cambridge University Press, 1999)
  • J. Riley-Smith, The Crusades: A History, (Continuum, 2005)
Essays and Compilations:
  • N. Housley, Knighthoods of Christ: Essays on the History of the Crusades and the Knights Templar, (Ashgate Publishing Limited: 2007)
  • A. Reader, The Crusades: Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures, vol. VIII, (Broadview Press, 2003)
Letters:
  • Papal Bull of Gregory VIII (1187), in A. Reader, The Crusades: Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures, vol. VIII, (Broadview Press, 2003)
  1. J. Riley-Smith, The Crusades: A History, (Continuum, 2005) P. 137.
  2. J. Riley-Smith, The Crusades: A History, (Continuum, 2005) P. 138.
  3. J. Riley-Smith, The Crusades: A History, (Continuum, 2005) P. 137.
  4. F. Madden, The New Concise History of the Crusades, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006) P.63.
  5. A. Reader, The Crusades: Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures, vol. VIII, (Broadview Press, 2003) P. 162.
  6. Papal Bull of Gregory VIII (1187), in A. Reader, The Crusades: Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures, vol. VIII, (Broadview Press, 2003) P. 164.
  7. J. A. Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary Survey, (Milwaukee: The Marquette University Press, 1962) P. 121 -24.
  8. J. Riley-Smith, The Crusades: A History, (Continuum, 2005) P. 137.
  9. A. Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary Survey, (Milwaukee: The Marquette University Press, 1962) P. 121 -24.

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