During the early crusades contemporary writers did recognize that even the earliest supporters had many different reasons for taking up the crusaders cross. There were almost as many motives as people leaving for the holy city of Jerusalem. Yet, there were three overarching themes that caused tens of thousands of men to leave their homes and families to go on crusades. The sense of adventure, the sense of opportunity, and the sense that this was a holy war that pleased God all played a part in motivating men to go on crusade. Young farm boys saw an opportunity to escape the mundane and rise in social rankings while on a mission for God. But that was not all, the crusade indulgences that Pope Urban II promised to those who took up the cross united these other motives and made people join with enthusiasm. Over the two hundred years that encompassed the first four crusades, the motives changed as well. The foot soldier was still fighting for God and to save their immortal souls, but the men in charge of organizing the crusades realized their power and began to use it as a diplomatic tool, as can be seen in the sack of Constantinople. Over all, the crusades united Europe and displayed to the rest of the world that they were a political and military force to be reckoned with.
The crusades were an escape from the normal drudge of everyday farm life for many men. The cramped and confined condition of life in many parts of Europe made the adventure in the east attractive. For example, it was easy to persuade the men of west France to leave their homes, for many years leading up to the first crusade in Gaul the people had been afflicted by civil wars, hunger, and plagues. The crusades were a way out and a chance for adventure. Jerusalem was an almost mystical land. It was a place of unimaginable physical remoteness that piqued many people’s curiosity. In Bible story’s that these people most certainly had heard from the pulpits of their village’s churches, Jerusalem was characterized as the promised land of the Israelites, and that was flowing with milk and honey. The crusades promised immediate adventure. Every war has stories of young men getting swept up in the excitement, adventure, romance, and heroism as they sign up to go to war to fight the enemy which they adamantly believe threatens their way of life, the crusades were no different. Men wanted to go on an adventure, and so they joined the crusades.
The crusades created many opportunities for men of all social ranking. For some it was an opportunity to escape their former lives and build a new one in a foreign land where they could be independent of their family’s economic and social positions. This was an opportunity to honorably break away from the forced community of their family and to make a free life for themselves, which had never been a prevalent option before. While some men used the crusades to leave their families, others took up the cross to best serve the interests of their family. The younger sons of nobles hoped to find a more plentiful heritage then could be given to them at home. This was also a victory for the church, who had long been seeking to channel the vigor of such men into activates more pleasing to God than the endless feuding of the nobility. The mixing of peasants and nobles on the crusades reveals that ideals of chivalry were more than just for provincial nobles as an order in the great Christian society. These ideals were common standards and shared among all ranks. This shows just how much social opportunities was created by taking up the cross.
The journey to Jerusalem to fight for God against the Pagans and Saracens was characterized as a Holy War. It was the belief that a war of conversion was just. This deep-seated conviction that the crusade was a legitimate act of revenge to benefit God and his suffering children led people to join as they felt it was their duty to God’s kingdom. The crusades followed the biblical principal that there is no greater love then for a man lay down his life for his friends. The medieval church placed a lot of importance on Old Testament figures such as David and Joshua who led God’s people into battle. These biblical leaders fought legitimate wars that were pleasing to God. The crusades gave expression to a militant tradition which seemed fasted security in the holy book of the old and new testament. The crusades embraced the idea of putting on the armor of God. They took of the shield of faith and swung the sword of truth in the name of God. The crusades were portrayed as an expression of love for God and one’s neighbor. In a society where religion was so intertwined with daily life the idea of a Holy War fought in the name of God appealed to many as their spiritual and moral duty. The crusades were strongly driven by the idea of holy war and service to the church.
In return for service the church offered an indulgence where a man could regain as much remission as otherwise would require fasting, and wearing a penitential belt for sixty years. He would also certainly escape purgatory and hell. At Clermont, Urban II preached on the 27 of November 1095, to a great crown of persons, lay and clerical calling on men from all over Christendom to come to rescue of their fellow Christian in the east. Here he promised that those who took up the cross or gave alms to its cause would be forgiven of their sins. This indulgence was forgiveness without limits. Those who joined the crusaded were promised that they would be absolved entirely from all their sins and wherever, whenever, in whatever circumstances he leaves the present existence he will gain eternal life. A great number immediately swore to undertake the journey and sewed a red cross onto their garments in witness to their vow as the crowed cried that this was God’s will. Many soldiers joined the crusades to obtain the pardon for their crimes which God could give them. For many the crusading indulgence was the main motive for marching towards Jerusalem. The church and medieval society were interwoven. Sin and salvation were of the utmost importance to these people, and in a time where death was so prevalent and the grim reaper could appear at your door at any given moment, making sure your eternal soul was saved had to be done in a quick and secure manner. The crusades cross was a get out of hell free card for church justified homicide.
The crusade was an armed pilgrimage which was granted special privileges by the church and was held to be especially merits. The church had a long tradition of pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Before the crusades the Holy Land was known to Christians of the west solely as a place of pilgrimage. Now the suffering of the pilgrimage was combined with the suffering of the crusades. This suffering endured for Christ offered forgiveness of sins and salvation to men at arms. This idea of armed pilgrimage appealed to the kingly classes and those who would not have made the pilgrimage beforehand. The crusade provided a cause which could instead enlist and consecrate both martial vigor, social pride, and religious conquest.
The early crusaded had won success as the result of the coincidence of the practical interests of trades and settlers, with the spiritual ideas which inspired Urban II and other evangelists of 1095. Military commitments arose from a combination of religious devotion and commercial awareness. The rapid success of the crusades at their very inception was crucial to their later history Victory set the seal of the movement that Urban II had put on the train. Crusading became a Christian activity with a specific nature and goal. The first crusade owed its success to the spirit of the men who went on it. The common solder had been stirred in a way which could not be halted. It is easy to recruit for a winning team who believed it was fighting for a holy cause that pleased the God they served. As the crusades went on these practical interests were now finding different outlets. The crusades started as a holy war with a holy cause which had earthly benefits, but it was then corrupted by the quest for political power and material gain.
The sack of Constantinople, a Christian capital, was the tragic denouncement to an expedition which had set out in a spirit of idealistic endeavor. This happened on the fourth crusade organized by Innocent III. Alexius came to meet the crusaded and proposed to them a plan whereby they should restore him and his father to the throne. In return Alexius a promised Byzantine commitment to the crusade in Palestine and submission of the Greek church to the papacy. To Benefice and other leaders, the prospect of power and influence in the Greek empire was alluring. The leaders open to the possibilities of stabling a total monopoly of Byzantine trade to the west saw this as an opportunity. Others who held more faithfully to the religious spirit that the crusades had started out with, believed helping Alexius would mean that they would go onto the Holy land with Greek knights in their ranks to reinforce them. The first siege of Constantinople restored Alexius this his father Isaac, but the two were unable to come through on their promises. So, the second capture of the city made Count Baldwin of Flanders the new emperor. This was the turning point in the crusade’s ideals and motives.
The torch of crusade idealism was still burning strong after Constantinople, and crusading still held its place as the highest expression of chivalrous ideals of the aristocracy in the west. But during the thirteenth century the crusades began to appeal more to material interests rather than spiritual ideals. The practical future of the crusades came to depend more and more on the political and dynastic relation of the Latin powers of the Mediterranean. Crusading also became associated with the refurbished versioned of the old ideal of the universal Christian empire.
The crusades demonstrated what a real unifying force in Christendom the Roman church had become. In summing up and fusing together a range of aspirations into a single idea, the crusades were an incredibly powerful concept and reality. Urban’s appeal at Clermont caught the revivalist imagination of his time. The church was so intrenched within society that when the Pope called for a holy war, men who were already loyal to God immediately took up the cross. The idea of going on a crusade that would give them an indulgence if they fought and martyrdom if killed was almost too good to be true. The journey to Jerusalem was taken for the remission of sin, imperishable glory of the Kingdom of heaven, escaping the ordinary, and for the opportunity to rise socially and economically. As the crusades progressed the religious motives of those espeically in leadership positions on the field were replaced with more economically and selfishly minded pursuits. But no one can deny that the defense of Jerusalem had taken a deep root as a symbol of united Christian endeavors.