Home > Uncategorized > Holy War? Not So Fast

Holy War? Not So Fast

Everyone is at least basically aware of the Crusades, what most don’t know is that religion was more of an excuse or at least a relatively minor cause.

In 1095 AD, a Turkish army invaded the Eastern Roman Empire (or Byzantine Empire) and threatened Constantinople itself. Emperor Alexios I Komnenos requested volunteers and other military assistance from the area that was once the Eastern Roman Empire, then a hodge podge of comparatively small kingdoms and city-states and today greater Europe.

It was really something of an answered prayer to many European rulers and subjects. Europe was thick with out of work soldiers, petty kings and marauding parties of second sons and outlaws, it was an exceedingly violent place with rulers constantly in fear of being deposed and the population at large suffering from raids, attacks, pillaging, etc. Few things are as dangerous and uncontrollable as a disbanded army.

It should be obvious now that Alexios’s call for assistance provided a way for the Pope, and more importantly the nobility, to refocus the violence and economic destruction onto someone else. However most were not keen to go to war for a foreign ruler. By promising land, wealth, and glory in the territories to be conquered to those who took up the crusade and framing it as a holy war, droves of people packed up and headed east to points unknown.

It’s rather telling, and overlooked, that the crusaders sacked christian cities and put Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike to the sword. That rings more like a conquest for riches than a war to free Christians from oppression and protect holy places, the Muslims were doing neither, in fact the Muslim rulers went to great lengths to protect Christian holy sites and keep them open for pilgrims. To this day the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is guarded by two Muslims.

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of the crusades, religion was certainly a driving factor, but not the primary one. It’s lazy and simply wrong to just shout, “ahhhh religion did it!” whenever one looks at the crusades, the same folly appears with our own Civil War*. At least in that case slavery was actually a major issue but 5 minutes on Google would show that it was just the final straw, and even if the south had agreed to end slavery, the war almost certainly would still have occurred.

You might disagree about how much of a holy war the crusades actually were, but the one thing that is indisputable is that it was not the singular or even primary cause. The cause was an invasion, the goal was riches, and the excuse was religion.

*As an aside, the 3/5ths compromise is widely misunderstood. The south wanted to count slaves as full persons to give their significantly less populated states more clout in Congress. The North didn’t want to count slaves at all, for similar reasons, to gain more congressional power for the North. It’s still appalling, but that fact is no excuse to not learn the truth, and it’s frustrating to see people get it backwards and claim that the Southerners only considered slaves as 3/5ths of a person, the 3/5ths has nothing to do with the human value of slaves and so should not be seen as a way to oppress them.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. 2013/09/24 at 17:18

    Has religion ever been the cause of any war? If so, are there examples or is this like racism where it exists but there don’t seem to be any valid examples?

  2. 2013/09/29 at 09:07

    When you run out of your tired rhetoric let me know.

    People kill each other all the time, always have done, always will do. They do it for endless reasons, religion, sex, money, land, honor, hurt feelings, opinion, the weather, bread they bought yesterday but already has mold. You live in this world you and other have dreamed up where all the worlds ills have at their source religion, when at no time in the entire history of mankind have things ever been so simple.

    People did join the crusades for religious reasons, but the financiers, the leaders, the ones making the decisions, the ones who stood to gain most, in large part for them, religion was merely a flag to wrap conquest in.

    So, is there anything that you will not attribute religion as the cause of? Or are there just no valid examples of anything bad or distasteful happening that does not have, at it’s root, religion? Excepting of course, those things caused by racism, the only thing other than religion, in your world, that causes bad things.

  3. 2013/09/29 at 09:10

    Headline from the Michael Hawkins Times: Christian crusaders sack christian cities, kill Christians, plunder christian churches for christian religious purposes, says Michael Hawkins with a waggle of his finger.

  4. 2013/10/01 at 18:05

    So all the religious people who fought for religious reasons after being encouraged to fight by religious leaders and political leaders using religious language and encouragement aren’t that important in this story because those political leaders also cared about wealth.

  5. 2013/10/04 at 11:25

    You’re missing my point. The fact that much opposition to slavery, perhaps even the most opposition, came from religious people on religious grounds, does not make the American Civil War a holy war.

    When the Byzantine Emperor managed to illicit promises from the leaders of the first crusade that any lands taken from the Turks would be returned to said Emperor, some of the leaders carried on and sacked christian cities that were not once part of the empire, and claimed them for their own. The fourth crusade even included the sack of Constantinople itself.

    A line from Kingdom of Heaven sums things up rather nicely: “A man who, in France, had not a house, is, in the Holy Land, the master of a city. He who was the master of a city begs in the gutter.”

    I simply take exception to the simplistic and often incomplete views that most people hold with regard to the causes of a great many historic events, the crusades being only one of very, very many. If it weren’t for the riches at stake the Turks would almost certainly have been allowed to run roughshod over the Byzantine Empire, differing religions be damned.

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