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.