What Motivated the Crusaders?

Often times, such as in the recent movie Kingdom of Heaven, the Crusaders are presented as imperialists more motiviated by money and greed than by devout conviction. In a recent post I mentioned a book about the Crusades I had recently completed, which did a good job of preseneting the genuine if misguided religious zeal of the Crusaders. It also emphasized that a significant part of the Crusader's perspective was that Islam was invading and conquering Christiain lands.

A couple of days ago, Loren Rosson wrote a post entitled, Understanding the Crusades, which also focused on Crusader motivations. Therein, he concludes that "what motivated them wasn't money or material gain: on the contrary, they dreaded the dangers of travel and expensive costs involved over the trek to Palestine, and there were few rewards to be won in the Holy Lands. Crusaders were motivated by anything but economic interests. They were motivated by sincere religious zeal."

Quoting a Crusader scholar, Rosson also notes that the Crusaders adopted the same policies of tolerance (relatively speaking) that the Muslims had before them:

[W]ithin a decade or two of their occupation of Palestine the crusaders had adopted a policy of toleration, based on the Muslim treatment of subject Christians and Jews. Muslim and Jewish shrines, mosques and synagogues were open. Muslims worshipped even in Christian shrines and churches and there was at least one mosque-church.

It is a fascinating period of time about which there are many misconceptions and few dispassionate commentators.

Rosson has posted a new blog on the issue.


Weekend Fisher said…
There's some ground given away here that I think is not given away entirely justly, and it may be ground that Christianity in general would do well not to cede so quickly without a good hard look to make sure it is just.

"misguided religious zeal of the Crusaders" -- at the time the Crusades started, most of the disputed land was still majority Christian, as it had been for centuries. But after a series of attacks on Christians in which large numbers of Christians were killed and important Christian sites demolished, the Christians of the Middle East called to Rome for help against what they saw as a new wave of what they saw as foreign invaders. Keep in mind that more than one set of Muslim overlords conquered the land during its history, and that the land periodically changed hands during inter-Muslim conflicts.

Under the circumstances, with the majority (and indigenous) population calling for help against invasion and oppression, I would want to go very slowly on the "misguided religious zeal of the Crusaders".

Also, re: "the same policies of tolerance ... that the Muslims ahd before them" ... unless the Crusader states kept the Muslim laws of discriminatory taxation, discriminatory rules of evidence, discriminatory dress code, discriminatory building code, discriminatory property code, and discrminatory social code in the law books that the Muslims had before them, then the Crusader states may have done a bit better than that. It would be an interesting case study to see how much of the Muslim dhimma was copied into Crusader state law, but until that case study is done, that ground should not be given away.

And I've always gotten a kick out of the mosque-inside-a-church that gets celebrated as some sort of exercise in religious tolerance. If Christians had conquered Arabia and built a church inside a mosque and allowed the original mosque owners to continue worshipping there as long as they didn't disturb the church-goers, nobody would be calling that "tolerance." But when the shoe is on the other foot ...
Lee said…
I have no problem believing that the Crusaders "were motivated by sincere religious zeal." Unfortunately, so were the heretic-burners of the Middle Ages, the priests of the Inquisition, and the staunch Protestants who hanged the Salem witches. All did what they did in the name of the Prince of Peace, who said, "Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you."

The sincere Crusaders (like all other warriors)sincerely committed atrocities, believing they had the Lord's interests at heart. Sincerity guarantees nothing. We have to be "doers of the Word, and not hearers only," and what He told us to do was love our enemies. We've never done a very good job at that.

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