Volume III - Church History

Eleventh Century

The First Crusade

In 1074 the Byzantine Emperor Michael VII Doukas (r. 1071–1078) suggested to Pope Gregory VII that there might be a possibility of reunion between their two Churches in exchange for military aid against the Islamic Seljuk Turks. Three years before, at Mantzikert in eastern Asia Minor, the Byzantine army had suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of these Turks, who were then able to spread into nearly all of the heartland of Asia Minor.

In response to this idea, Pope Gregory offered to launch a crusade to liberate the Christians of the East, in return for acknowledgment of Papal supremacy. This crusade was not actually undertaken, probably largely because of Gregory’s desperate struggle over lay investiture. But the idea for the Crusades had been set in motion, and the typical pattern for East-West relations which lasted for nearly 400 years was begun.

The First Crusade was launched by Pope Urban II (r. 1088–1099) at the request of the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Comnenos (r. 1081–1118) for knights to fight against the Seljuk Turks. After their victory at Mantzikert in 1071, the Turks captured Antioch in 1085 and Nicea in 1092, thus coming quite close to Constantinople itself. The Pope agreed to try to raise a military force to help the emperor.
However, it was not the quest to drive the Turks out of Asia Minor that fired the imagination of Western Europe. Rather, it was the call by Pope Urban to free the Holy Land from the infidel Muslim Arabs that rallied thousands of Western knights to set out on the First Crusade. On November 27, 1095, at Clermont in south central France, in a rousing and impassioned speech delivered in French, the pope convinced the great churchmen and nobles of Europe that the Holy Land must be liberated. The response was electrifying: cries of ‘Deus le volt’ (‘God wills it’) filled the air. The First Crusade was launched.

The Crusaders were able to capture Antioch from the Turks in 1098, and in the next year they won Jerusalem from the Arabs. But they slaughtered so many of the Muslim residents of the city that the Muslims have been embittered against the West to this day.

The Latin knights proceeded to carve out four kingdoms for themselves in the Middle East—Edessa, Antioch, Tripoli, and Jerusalem—all of which claimed independence from Byzantium. Latin patriarchs were set up in Jerusalem and Antioch, challenging the authority of the Orthodox patriarchs there (as well as the Non-Chalcedonian Jacobite patriarch in Antioch). During the next century the Byzantines tried sporadically to win control of these areas from the Latins, but without success. By 1291, all these kingdoms had fallen back to the Muslims.