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God’s Battalions (part 2)

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(In continuation of the previous post regarding Stark’s work on the Crusades)

3.  Crusading was enormously expensive, and the crusades were led by the heads of families, not inheritance-deprived children in search of wealth.  Crusading was dominated by a few closely related families (p.110).  The best estimate is that “a typical crusader needed to raise at least four or five times his annual income before he could set forth.  This reveals the absurdity of all claims that the crusaders were mostly landless younger sons, since it would have been cheaper for families to have kept such sons at home and provided them an adequate inheritance” (p.112).   In addition to this, the wealthier nobles subsidized knights that were less fortunate, and some sold huge amounts of property to go on a crusade, with Godfrey of Bouillon selling the entire county of Verdun to the King of France (ibid).  These facts, in addition to the fact that about 85 to 90 percent of the Frankish knights did not go to the Crusade, should put to rest that this was some sort of economic, colonial enterprise. Far more likely is that those who left did so because of “pious idealism” (p.114).

4.  Muslim conquests were an imminent and grave threat to the West, as the following Christian lands were conquered by Islam: Syria (630’s), Egypt (640’s), North Africa (700’s), Southern Spain (710’s), Sicily and Southern Italy (840’s), and the Major Mediterranean islands (Cyprus-653, Rhodes-672, Sardinia-809, Majorca-818, Crete-824, and Malta-835).  The Crusading action was seen as justified from a political and justice standpoint, as British historian Derek Lomax put it, “The popes, like most Christians, believed war against the Muslims to be justified partly because the latter had usurped by force lands which once belonged to Christians and partly because they abused the Christians over whom they ruled and such Christian lands as they could raid for slaves, plunder, and the joys of destruction” (p.33).

5. Muslim “tolerance” is mostly a myth.  This claim is another post-Enlightenment idea that originated with figures such as Voltaire who tried to make Christianity look as bad as possible (p.28).  Pagans were given the “choice” of death or enslavement, and sometimes Jews and Christians were presented with this option as well.  In principle, Jews and Christians were supposed to be tolerated, and allowed to practice.  However, they were given humiliating 2nd class status as “dhimmis,” meaning churches and synagogues could not be repaired, nor could any new ones be built.  They could not read their scriptures or pray out loud even in their homes because a Muslim could accidentally hear them.  This is in addition to the severe taxation and social ostracizing that occurred so that they would “know their place” (ibid).  However, this was the best case scenario, since from the beginning, Islam spread by the sword, and conditions were often far worse.  For example, in 705, all the Christian nobles in Armenia were assembled and burned to death in a church. In the same year Carthage was razed to the ground and most of its inhabitants killed.  Mohammad himself ordered all the local adult Jewish males (about seven hundred), beheaded in Medina after being forced to dig their own graves.  These events were well-known in Europe, and filled the Byzantines and Latins with “righteous anger.”  This doesn’t mean Christians and Jews didn’t commit atrocities, as this age was brutal when it came to warfare.  But as Stark puts it, “…efforts to portray Muslims as enlightened supporters of multiculturalism are at best ignorant” (p.29).

6.  There were several theological reasons for crusading, the first of these being an “armed pilgrimage,” in order to visit the holy sites around Jerusalem and Antioch.  In fact, orders such as the Templars and Hospitallers, started as pilgrim protectors or physicians.  Many of those who “preached the crusade” believed that retaking the former Christian lands were an act of charity and a declaring of one’s love for God.  They were not advocating forced conversions, and during the reign of the crusader states, Muslims always outnumbered Christians when it came to demographics.  Some went on Crusades because of the medieval Roman idea of penance as well, as some of the knights of the time led a highly immoral lifestyle and wanted to be forgiven.

Stark himself summarizes his work when he says that, “The Crusades were not unprovoked. They were not the first round of European colonialism. They were not conducted for land, loot, or converts. The crusaders were not barbarians who victimized the cultivated Muslims. They sincerely believed that they served in God’s battalions.” If only the general public and Western Christians were aware of these facts. Any thoughts or responses?


  1. mode20100 says:

    A+ would read again

  2. […] historians and sociologists of religion, many of whom have been quoted on this site (See here and here).  The point here is that in spite of the good work done by many, the Crusades still remain as one […]

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