A pluralist view of the Crusades has developed in the 20th century inclusive of all papal-led efforts, whether in the Middle East or in Europe. This takes into account the view of the Roman Catholic Church and medieval contemporaries such as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux that gave equal precedence to comparable military campaigns against pagans, heretics and many undertaken for political reasons.
The Crusades were a series of religious expeditionary wars blessed by Pope Urban II and the Catholic Church, with the stated goal of restoring Christian access to the holy places in and near Jerusalem. Jerusalem was and is a sacred city and symbol of all three major Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).
The Battle of Ager Sanguinis, 1337 miniature Events leading up to the Crusades began in 1071 when the Seljuk Turks decisively defeated the Byzantine army. The Byzantine emperor, Alexis I feared that all Asia Minor would be overrun. He called on fellow Christian leaders and the Pope to come to the aid of Constantinople by undertaking a pilgrimage or a crusade that would free Jerusalem from the 372 year old Muslim rule. The Crusades were originally launched in response to a call from the leaders of the Byzantine Empire for help to fight the expansion into Anatolia of Muslim Seljuk Turks who had cut off Christian access to Jerusalem, and were also sparked by the destruction of many Christian sacred sites and the persecution of Christians under the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim. The crusaders comprised military units of Roman Catholics from all over western Europe, and were not under unified command. The main series of Crusades, primarily against Muslims in the Levant, occurred between 1095 and 1291. Historians have given many of the earlier crusades numbers. After some early successes, the later crusades failed and the crusaders were defeated and forced to return home. Several hundred thousand soldiers became Crusaders by taking vows; the Pope granted them plenary indulgence. Their emblem was the cross — the term "crusade" is derived from the French term for taking up the cross. Many were from France and called themselves "Franks," which became the common term used by Muslims.
There were two key questions that went unanswered in Waldemar Januszczak's The Dark Ages – An Age of Light (BBC4). The first came right at the beginning. "This is a series about an artistic period that's looked down on, that never gets the respect it deserves," Januszczak said by way of introduction. "A shadowy era, so shadowy, people even disagree about its name. So I'm going to call it by its old one. The Dark Ages." At which point I rather expected him to mention some of the other names, together with an explanation of why he had chosen to stick with the Dark Ages. But no. The other was rather less serious, though more perplexing. Why on earth was Januszczak wearing an enormous shiny gold skull ring throughout the programme? Was it a joke? Was it symbolic? Is he having a mid-life? Is he a paid up member of a Hell's Angels chapter?
It's easy to forget that feudalism is not at all like a modern government. It's not based on government bureaucracy or officially sanctioned titles. It's based on a process of relationships between leaders and followers. The smallest blue dots in this video represent villages ruled by knights, who answer to nobles called barons, who answer to nobles called counts. The counts answer to a king or a duke, but each knight is almost a law unto himself in his own territory.
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