Fallen Cross: Failure of the Crusader States

Michael G. Stroud

The religious zeal and political opportunism that would come to mark the various endeavors of the Levantine Crusades would prove to be a double-edged sword for the Crusader Kingdoms.

This fervor and drive allowed for the Crusaders to take Jerusalem in 1099 and subsequently, carve out the Latin kingdoms of Jerusalem, Tripoli, Antioch, and Edessa. These successes allowed for the Crusaders to establish their footprint in the Levant but would not endure beyond a few hundred years. The reasons for their failure could have very well been their reasons for a lasting presence and success in the Middle East had they properly adapted to the circumstances of their situation. First, no culture or civilization can survive let alone thrive if there is not a sustainable population that is growing. The crusades themselves, while there were non-military zealots and the like that did make it to the Holy Land, were mostly comprised of military forces. The evolving decades saw the development of the various military orders such as the Templars and Hospitallers who would become the defenders and stewards of their various lands and though there were some efforts to attract settlers, the lack of a concerted effort to properly do so, would seriously undermine the manpower, economic and food production resources of all the Crusader kingdoms. The use of Turcopoles, ‘indigenous mercenaries who served the western knights as mounted archers and other types of light cavalry’ were the right kind of troops to satisfy both their military manpower and general population needs. These Turcopoles were possibly native Christians, the result of Christian and Muslim unions or a combination of both (there is some academic debate as to this) but their value could not be understated. The Latin Kingdoms could have helped their longevity by building upon the integration and use of Turcopoles beyond just that of the army, by offering land-grants, societal status, and the like, to foster more willing migration to their various kingdoms. This way, the families of the Turcopoles would be members of the various kingdoms and become more vested in its success and survival and in turn, be consistent contributors to said success through food production, taxes paid and the like. In the harsh environment of the Middle East this would have provided a better standard of living and therefore would in turn, attract more people to them, thus sustaining and growing the kingdoms (and providing more willing military manpower to protect their homes).
Fallen Cross: Failure of the Crusader States
Map of the major political powers between the First & Second Crusades.

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Fallen Cross: Failure of the Crusader States
Reenactor dressed as a turcopole from the 12th century.

A second cause for the short-lived Latin Kingdoms would be that of its treatment of native Muslims and other non-Christian people.

Upon the capture of the Holy City of Jerusalem in 1099, the Crusader forces quickly fell into unchecked debauchery, robbing the city of its wealth while massacring tens of thousands of its inhabitants. This is a stark case-study in how not to endear yourself to a local population especially when you are trying to present yourself as liberators like the Crusaders did. This same behavior carried over into Anatolia, Syria, and Palestine where Islamic and Jewish populations were brutally murdered, thus inciting Muslims to action. These actions, which were not the norm from their Muslim foes who allowed non-Muslims to pay a tax and to then live and let live, drove a sharp wedge between them and their vastly more numerous neighbors. This only isolated the Latin Kingdoms more, forcing them to be ever more reliant on resources sent from Europe via ship. The Islamic forces in turn would only grow bigger and more powerful as a result. The opportunity here would have been to utilize strategic diplomacy (which they were capable of such as the conclusion of the Third Crusade) as well as positive local outreach. The crusaders, especially after the capture of Jerusalem could have greatly improved their chances of a lasting presence if they would have done two things: first, forbidding upon penalty of expulsion from the Catholic church, the killing of any of the inhabitants of Jerusalem or of any of the local people throughout the Holy Land. Second, allow non-Christians to remain unmolested in the various Crusader lands in exchange for loyalty to the kingdom they are in. These acts would have ingratiated the Latin kingdoms with the local populations by showing benevolence and charity and therefore, would be the beginning of establishing good will and trust with them. This good will and trust would prove incalculable for all their posterity beyond their historical few hundred years. Unfortunately, unchecked religious zealotry, ignorance of the contestants involved, and rife prejudices would win out leading to over a thousand years of strife.
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Fallen Cross: Failure of the Crusader States

Michael G. Stroud

Michael G. Stroud is a U.S. based Military Historian that has published many military history articles in various mediums from print magazines to academic journals, and military history websites in both the UK and the U.S. He completed his undergrad degree from American Military University, Summa Cum Laude in Military History and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Military History with a concentration on the American Civil War with the same university. Michael has been an invited guest on various history themed podcasts from the UK and the US.
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