Popular Misconceptions About the Crusades

There exist many popular misconceptions about the crusades which are often used as ammunition against the Catholic Church by its opponents in social media and elsewhere. While it is true that there were instances of cruelty and greed among the crusaders, especially during the fourth crusade, much of the popular opinion about the crusades is distorted from the truth.

It is often said that the crusades were unprovoked acts of aggression by religious zealots against the innocent Muslims. The actions of the crusaders were hardly unprovoked. The Muslims had taken over two-thirds of the Christian world, including Asia minor, the Middle east, North Africa, and much of Spain. In Asia minor, there were several cities of great importance to Christians, namely Antioch, Ephesus, and Nicaea (the city where the council of Nicaea took place, establishing the ever important Nicene creed), and in the Middle east, there was the city of Jerusalem, whose importance goes without saying. Today we associate these areas (except for Spain and Jerusalem) with the Muslims, but that is because they had taken them from the Christians! Many of the areas in Europe conquered in the Islamic holy wars were occupied for very long stretches of time. Hungary was occupied for 150 years, Sicily for 300 years, Serbia and Romania for 400, Bulgaria and Greece for 500, Portugal for 600, and Spain for 800 years. So no, the crusades were by no means unprovoked.

Another popular misconception was that the crusaders’ prime motivation was greed, and that they took advantage of the crusades to acquire personal wealth. The crusades were far from opportunities for personal gain, and the few who did think that they could establish their fortune that way would have very soon discovered the truth. Any military endeavor comes with great costs, and the crusades were no exception. Someone who wanted to go on crusade had to supply himself with weapons, horses, armor, not to mention all the food and other supplies needed for such a journey. No doubt many of the crusaders had families that needed supporting, and finances that needed to be put in order. It is not at all surprising that the crusaders were people that could actually afford to go on crusade, and therefore were not in need of plunder to to gain money. If these wealthy men were simply greedy for more money, it would have been far more profitable for them to stay home.

It has also been claimed that the Crusaders wanted to forcefully convert the Muslims to Christianity in the areas that they had conquered. Actually, no Muslims living in any of the crusader states established by the first crusade were required to give up their religion. In fact, in the conquered city of Jerusalem, the Muslims outnumbered the Christians.

Some have said that the crusades led to resentment among the Muslims which eventually culminated in 20th and 21st century terrorism. Well, if there does exist any resentment today, it was put there by misguided westerners who wanted to apologize for something that was not a significant event in Islamic history. From the perspective of the Muslims, the crusades were a minor event. It was not until the late 19th century that the first Muslim book was written about the crusades. In fact, all but the first crusade ended in failure, having little impact on the Islamic world.

There are many misconceptions about the crusades, likely emerging from people with a strong anti-Christian bias. It is true that there were unwarranted acts of violence against innocent people during the crusades, as in any military conflict. However, these events have been greatly distorted, and it has become necessary to step back and take a closer look in order to rediscover the truth.

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