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August 11, 2012 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

The armies of the European Crusaders captured Jerusalem from the Arabs in 1099 AD and established the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.  The battle for Jerusalem was brutal, but no more brutal than any battle fought in this period of history.  The armies of Islam had been massacring Christians for decades, as well as desecrating the Christian Holy Places.  This is exactly why the Byzantine Emperor of Constantinople called for help in the first place and why Pope Urban II called for help from the western kingdoms.  Some Jews were killed in the struggle, but most Jews were protected and survived the battle.

The struggle to take back territories captured by the Moslem effort to control the world had already begun by the time of the First Crusade.  Spain was back in the hands of the Spaniards.  Sicily and southern Italy had been retaken, along with many of the other islands previously taken by Islam.  It is always helpful to remember that the Middle East was Christian territory prior to the rise of Mohammed and part of the Byzantine Empire.  The Christian population of the East was always greater than the Christian population of the West, although our sources of information are considerably less.

It was Alexius Comnenus, Emperor of Byzantium, who wrote to Pope Urban II asking for help in repelling the Moslem control of Jerusalem.  The year was 1096.  Thousands of Christians were coming to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, with the result that they were easy pickings for the raiding Arab armies and Bedouin tribes.  Jerusalem was a long ways from Constantinople, and Comnenus was desperate.

The character of the European knights who responded to the call of the Pope has often been disparaged. They were soldiers, trained to fight since childhood.  However, there was also a deeply religious side to their character.  They did not go to Jerusalem to gain wealth.  Most of them nearly bankrupted themselves in order to pay for a journey that was very costly.  They did not go to Jerusalem to seek treasure, because there was no treasure to be sought in this backwater of the Turkish Empire.  They did not go to get land, because most of them planned to return to Europe after they has done what the Pope called them to do, namely free Jerusalem from Moslem control. They went as Christian warriors.  One can argue the theology of war, but pacifism was not a part of the culture of either the Moslem world, or of Europe, and Christians were being slaughtered and their Holy Places destroyed and defiled.

This brings me to the point of this brief article.  The Crusaders expected that once the Holy City was liberated, the Byzantine Empire would come in and provide the administration necessary to preserve the area as a Christian enclave.  It did not happen.  Three quarters of the Crusaders left Jerusalem after the conquest and returned home to take up their previous lives, although a great deal poorer for their adventure.  Only a small group of Europeans stayed in Jerusalem to protect the city and the pilgrimage traffic.

This is a lesson of history we have not learned.  When we start out to do a good thing; to achieve a noble goal, the gains will need to be preserved.  Do we count this cost when we begin a work?  Who will be responsible to preserve whatever gain is achieved?  If we fail here the situation will revert, and come back to haunt us.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at