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War and Military in Medieval Times – The First Crusade Essay

Europe was undergoing a time of change and turmoil in the Middle Ages. Farming advancements, the growth of cities, and the deterioration of the feudal system set the stage for the development of the new middle social class. With expansion and change came new problems for all classes; lack of available work for the peasants, harassment of the burghers by the lords, and the nobles cringing at the sight of power and land slipping through their fingers. Despite their social status and social dilemmas, the young, old, rich, and poor all began to share a great common bond that had surfaced-the Roman Catholic Church.

During this time of social and economic turbulence, the European peoples of all walks of life sought order, stability, and direction. “The First Crusade was a war launched in 1099, by Christians under the support of the Roman Catholic Church, to regain control of Jerusalem from the Muslims, and to help the Byzantine Empire fight the Seljuk Turks” (Wikipedia). Initial motives behind the war included Pope Gregory VII’s hope that the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church would reunite, but attempts withered and failed amidst other conflicts.

Pope Urban II was the next to experience a motivation for the religious war. He saw the general disorganization in Europe, but unlike Gregory, he felt the war necessary not for political reasons, but rather as a means to spread Christianity and the idea of Christendom-the church as a universal unifying institution. As a religious leader he provided the means of religious impulse as a driving force to spiritually fuel the war, and the mundane leaders as governmental figures provided the financial and material fuel for the war. Meanwhile, the Byzantine emperor Alexius I was fighting the Turks.

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Upon observing the development of the involvement of Pope Urban II, he asked for the aid of the Western people. The response was favorable, and soon the Council of Clermont commenced. There, the first words of the religious calling flowed over the masses as Pope Urban II spoke to the crowd. The mission, ordained by God, himself, quenched the spiritual thirst of the people who had been longing for a sense of direction. The crowd left the Council of 1095 in an enthusiastic frenzy, clamoring to fight for God. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain; even if they died in battle, they were guaranteed entry into heaven.

The war to regain control of the Holy Lands was soon recognized as a way to achieve stability at home once again. Merchants would be able to have new trade routes and available markets. Also, local lands were becoming short in supply; increased farming and growing urban areas threatened noble power. The population increased rapidly because of advancements, and nobility was no exception to the problem of population growth. The families were still increasing, but the availability of land was not. Among the noble families civil disagreements broke out as the sons of lords fought for control.

Thus, the nobles planned on seizing the opportunity to gain new lands, and in turn, solve their problems as well. In many aspects, the crusades seemed to further illustrate the disorganization of the times rather than act as an answer or cure for the chaos. The campaign for the crusade rapidly gathered people of all walks of life and became a widespread movement. Soon, a large, diverse mob-consisting of women, yeoman farmers, monks, and children-quickly accumulated, and each individual believed to be led by God himself. From this mass of people, the figure well-known for the idea of the crusade emerged-Peter the Hermit of Amiens.

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