Violence - the First and the Main Aspect of Crusades

Wars lasted from 1096-1291 and reflect the innate violence of European Christians in their encounters with Muslims. Violence was undoubtedly a fundamental aspect of the Crusades as their ultimate aim was to usurp the Holy Land, which could only be successfully achieved through ravaging and plundering of territorial gain; a peaceful approach was not an option. As to be revealed with all encounters involving Europeans, both physical, indirect and verbal violence is employed by the Europeans in their approach towards the Muslim people of the Middle East. The extensive definition of violence can be applied when analysing the Europeans approaches to encounters during the Crusades, to ultimately display the fundamentally violent nature of their behaviours. From physical violence, to the violent language employed by the leaders of the expeditions, it is apparent that all approaches to the Muslims had an innately violent overtone that cannot be ignored.

The intent to use violence is revealed through the Pope’s speeches, which is then reflected into a horde of violent atrocities that were enacted against thousands of Muslims across three centuries. An example of the Europeans’ abhorrent actions is at the Siege of Jerusalem in 1099, where upon their arrival they ‘savagely butchered some 40,000 of its Jewish and Muslim inhabitants’. Jerusalem, as a Holy City, was of great importance to the European Christians, and their attitude towards obtaining back from the Muslims was borderline obsessive. The determination of the Europeans to obtain Jerusalem resulted in harrowing brutality as they massacred the city’s inhabitants, with no regard for human life. The Europeans violent behaviour and lack of sympathy when encountering Muslims is commonplace throughout the Crusades, which reiterates the emphasis placed on violence in order to achieve their goals. Violence was evidently a focal point for the European Christians when encountering the Muslims of the Holy Land, which displays that these encounters were fundamentally violent.

Before the First Crusade had even commenced, the Europeans had the intent to be violent towards whomever they may encounter. This intention is visible in Pope Urban II’s speech at the Council of Clermont in 1095, where he advocates a call to arms against Islam, and employs violent language throughout his speech. He cries that the Turks are an accursed race, and that it was Christian duty to ‘destroy that vile race’. Pope Urban repeatedly uses inflammatory language to describe Muslims, such as calling them ‘infidels’, ‘barbarians’ and demon worshippers. This speech actively encouraged violence towards Muslims, which reflects the important role that violence played during the Crusades. Furthermore, the use of violent language demonised Muslims, which allowed for the formulation of an enemy for the Europeans. Viewing Muslims as ‘barbaric’ encouraged violent behaviours to be carried out against them, as well as inflammatory impact of violent language causing its own violence. The encouragement of violence highlights that the Europeans went into the crusades aiming to cause destruction in order to achieve their goals, which displays the fundamental nature of violence within these encounters.

Overall, the beliefs and the behaviours of the European Christians initiated consequences which impacted future encounters Europeans had with others. These conflicts allowed for acts of violence to be canonised and made violence a Christian vocation. The atrocities of the Crusades were justified by the European Christians at the time, as they were believed to be God’s will and an essential element of the duties of a Christian. These attitudes allowed for Europeans to formulate a superiority complex, which enabled them to justify their violent acts, as well as allowing for religion to disguise violent behaviour. These elements were established in the encounters during the Crusades, and continue throughout later encounters in history, such as when Europeans encountered the indigenous people of the Americas.

07 July 2022
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