The verdict seems unanimous. From presidential speeches to role-playing games, the crusades are depicted as a deplorably violent episode in which thuggish Westerners trundled off, unprovoked, to murder and pillage peace-loving, sophisticated Muslims, laying down patterns of outrageous oppression that would be repeated throughout subsequent history. In many corners of the Western world today, this view is too commonplace and apparently obvious even to be challenged.
But unanimity is not a guarantee of accuracy. What everyone “knows” about the crusades may not, in fact, be true. From the many popular notions about the crusades, let us pick four and see if they bear close examination.
Myth #1: The crusades represented an unprovoked attack by Western Christians on the Muslim world.
Nothing could be further from the truth, and even a cursory chronological review makes that clear. In a.d. 632, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, North Africa, Spain, France, Italy, and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica were all Christian territories. Inside the boundaries of the Roman Empire, which was still fully functional in the eastern Mediterranean, orthodox Christianity was the official, and overwhelmingly majority, religion. Outside those boundaries were other large Christian communities—not necessarily orthodox and Catholic, but still Christian. Most of the Christian population of Persia, for example, was Nestorian. Certainly there were many Christian communities in Arabia.
By a.d. 732, a century later, Christians had lost Egypt, Palestine, Syria, North Africa, Spain, most of Asia Minor, and southern France. Italy and her associated islands were under threat, and the islands would come under Muslim rule in the next century. The Christian communities of Arabia were entirely destroyed in or shortly after 633, when Jews and Christians alike were expelled from the peninsula.6 Those in Persia were under severe pressure. Two-thirds of the formerly Roman Christian world was now ruled by Muslims.
What had happened? Most people actually know the answer, if pressed—though for some reason they do not usually connect the answer with the crusades. The answer is the rise of Islam. Every one of the listed regions was taken, within the space of a hundred years, from Christian control by violence, in the course of military campaigns deliberately designed to expand Muslim territory at the expense of Islam’s neighbors. Nor did this conclude Islam’s program of conquest...
Read the rest of the article here.
According to the California University of Pennsylvania website,
Dr. Paul F. Crawford is a specialist in the history of the crusades and of the military-religious orders (such as the Knights Templar, Knights Hospitaller and Teutonic Knights). He has published a number of works on these subjects, including the first English-language translation of a 14th-century crusader chronicle known as The ‘Templar of Tyre'; several articles and book chapters; a number of encyclopedia entries on crusade-related subjects; and several popularly oriented essays. Along with Helen Nicholson (University of Wales) and Jochen Burgtorf (California State University-Fullerton), he has edited a collection of scholarly papers on the trial of the Templars, and he is currently working on general history of the Templars and Hospitallers.
He has assisted in the preparation of several television programs on the crusades and the military orders, and has appeared in three: "History's Mysteries: The Children's Crusade" (2000), "The Crusades: Crescent and the Cross" (2005) and "Lost Worlds: Knights Templar" (2006), all first aired on the History Channel.
H/T to Sir Knight Nathan Brindle