How bad were the crusades

The crusades as they really were

Hans Wollschläger's "The armed pilgrimages to Jerusalem" in a new edition

By Evelyne from Beyme

Discussed books / references

To portray the Crusades as they really were with all their atrocities, that seemed to have made the man in his mid-twenties - who among historians missed "the truth" about the crusade events - his task.

"Over 22 million dead [...]. For what? Just for the work of an institution, a gigantic syndicate that once terrorized the world?" Such accusatory words can be found in "The History of the Armed Pilgrimages to Jerusalem".

The monograph should not be unknown to some of the older generation. The recently published text as the second volume of the "Writings in Individual Editions" made its debut in 1970 as the "Third Book" in "Church and War - The Christian Path to Eternal Life".

The six chapters of the book deal with the numerous crusades that were undertaken by the Westerners - under the leadership of the Christian Church - against pagans and even Christians in the period from the 11th to the 13th centuries. Under the heading "Jerusalem, rejoice!" the first chapter is intended to introduce the reader to the events of the first crusade (1096-1099). The council of Piacenza held by Pope Urban II in 1095 and the legation from the Byzantine emperor Alexios present there are mentioned. However, Wollschläger interprets Alexio's request in Piacenza not as a "cry for help" but as a "call for a war of aggression". The author overlooks the fact that Alexio's embassy was an advertisement for western mercenaries - in view of the Sunni advancing threatening Byzantium who had seized the Byzantine territories since their invasion of Asia Minor.

In much more detail, he describes the consequences of the Christian project, which cost the participants a lot of money: Not only the wealthy people felt addressed by the crusade sermon, those who decided to participate in the big undertaking, "complete forgiveness of sins [...] "Debt deferral for the entire duration of the train, and, last but not least, promised rich booty". The idea could not be limited to the knighthood and also took hold of the poorer class of the population, who wanted to benefit from the advantages of the taking of the cross as well. The participation of the lower folk in the crusade, which - for lack of funds - financed their crusade in so-called "raids" against the Jews, had fatal consequences for Judaism. This "perhaps the most terrible chapter" in the history of the Crusades: "the persecution of the Jews" has, as Wollschläger rightly points out, been far too seldom the subject of scientific investigation.

The arrival of the various crusader armies since winter 1096 and the feudal oath demanded from the individual leaders of the cross armies sounds in "The armed pilgrimages to Jerusalem" like a criticism of Emperor Alexios, who in the said oath demanded from the leaders that all conquests be ended their cruise in the Orient were considered "conquests for the realm of the basileus". Wollschläger suppresses the fact that the regulation only referred to those conquered areas that were already Byzantine before the Seljuq invasion.

Likewise, the counter-promise of the Basileus, which is so important for the further course of the first and the following second crusade and mentioned in the "Gesta dei per Francos", to provide the crusaders with food and to support them with troops, is missing in his representation.

The disputes between the Crusaders over possession of the fortress of Antioch are also completely left out of his mind. For Wollschläger "everything turned out to be quite fair".

In this and the five following chapters, the depiction of atrocities committed by the Crusaders predominates, including the capture of Jerusalem in mid-July 1099, where they "[slaughtered] the locals with arms" or "killed them with stones" and "killed the dead." Saracens [carved] the bodies "in order to" get the gold pieces out of their entrails ".

Important references are also missing in the fourth chapter "The, Mother of the World", which deals with the fourth crusade (1198-1204). According to Wollschläger, the target of this last crusade was "this time not the holy [land], in which the arrival of the Son of God in the flesh was once foretold by holy prophets, but rather: Egypt". Among the crusaders, however, the Holy Land was the real goal - Wollschläger should not have missed the fact that the target Egypt had been agreed upon in a secret additional protocol and the leaders initially left the crusaders in disbelief about it.

His criticism of the church is not unfounded: the blame for the crusades, which degenerated into excesses of robbery and murder, rests heavily on the holy institution, which condemned "murderers, Simonists and Sodomites to stay in Palestine" and abused the Holy Land as a "penal colony" . So the "crusade calls, which drummed through the 13th century practically non-stop [...] were only a means to extort special taxes and use them for the Curia Wars [...] which were directed against practically all of the world".

The fifth chapter ("Law on Peoples and Kingdoms"), in which Wollschläger reports on the Jesuan sect that was spread "across Europe" at the time - the Cathars - is particularly successful. The sect, which was spotted in Germany before the middle of the 12th century and whose real stronghold was southern France, differed from the church primarily in the "observed sexual abstinence" of its followers. The term "crusade" used by Wollschläger in this context seems to be entirely appropriate for the gruesome extermination that the church undertook out of fear of competition against the Cathars.

"The armed pilgrimages to Jerusalem" are based on extremely complex source material; some chroniclers even point to differences in interpretation - for example, when Barbarossa died while bathing in the river on the Third Crusade (1187-1192), the cause of which the chroniclers saw between drowning and Heartbeat fluctuates from "sudden cooling".

Most of the sources used, however, revolve around battles and atrocities committed, whereby the crusade fades into the background to such an extent that the reader threatens to lose track of what happened. The headings, which - like "The True Jubilee" or "A People Who Loves Death" - do not give any indication of the content of the individual chapter contribute to this. The poor structuring of his work causes further confusion. Formally, Wollschläger's exaggerations are also disturbing, such as his reference to the "foundation of a huge secondary literature" for the history of the crusade, which - although the crusade literature is relatively small at the time of his work and even today - would be so immense that it Listing the secondary literature used is "impossible for reasons of space".

The author does not go into enough detail on the intentions of the individual crusaders, the prevailing values ​​at the time and the living conditions at that time, which, especially in France and Germany, prompted many people to take part in a crusade. The faith and the church, which made use of these for their own interests, reflect only a small part of the history of the Crusades, so that a reference to the social circumstances as another motive for being crucified should not be omitted here.

The title "The armed pilgrimages to Jerusalem" alone promises more than it delivers. The use of the term "armed pilgrimage" instead of "crusade" should have been discussed again at least in the foreword, since this is the subject of an ongoing debate about the definition of the crusade.

To accommodate around 300 years of crusades on 285 pages in addition to a church criticism is simply too much history for so little space. "The armed pilgrimages to Jerusalem" are linguistically very appealing and written in an entertaining tone, which cannot be said of many history books. However, in some places the book is simply too confusing and imprecise for a historical work.