The Fight for Jerusalem and the Gate to the Middle East

While Constance of Burgundy busied herself converting the churches at Compostela and Braga to the strict format of the Cluniac church, her husband Alfonso VI and his fellow Christian princes fought the Muslims. The Moors considered Alfonso an astute and fierce enemy. In 1085, he captured Toledo. Like his father Ferdinand I, he proclaimed himself Emperor of all Hispania. But the next year he met a formidable foe.

The Almoravid Muslims south of the Rio Tejo [Tagus River] were led by the competent Moorish general Yusuf ibn Tashfin. Tashfin had reigned Morocco since 1061, and would continue to do so until 1106. In 1086, he led an army 15,000 strong – 6000 rode on white Arabian horses – in a major encounter for control of al-Andalus [Andalusia] called the Battle of Sagrajas [aka Zalaca or Zallaqa]. And he won. Alfonso VI was severely wounded in the leg and barely escaped with his life.

Alfonso decided he needed help. He appealed to the Cluniacs via Constance’s nephew, Odo I, Duke of Burgundy, who sent his nineteen-year-old brother Henry of Burgundy with forces. Henry arrived in León a brave Cluny crusader looking for adventure by fighting the Moors. He was twenty-six years younger than his uncle-in-law Alfonso VI. For the next few years, he accompanied the king during the Reconquista battles. Eventually the Christians pushed the Muslims below the Rio Tejo, but the Muslims still controlled Lisbon.

In 1093, after thirteen years of marriage, and after producing a legitimate daughter for Alfonso named Urraca, Constance of Burgundy died. Alfonso had several illegitimate children. He had fathered a son named Sancho with a mistress thought to be the Muslim princess, Zaida of Seville. He had fathered two daughters, Teresa and Elvira, with a mistress named Jimena Muñoz. The most important person to remember is Teresa. She will mother the first Portuguese royal line. [But don’t forget the others. They have not left the story yet.]

The same year Constance died, 1093, Alfonso VI gave the County of Portugal to Constance’s nephew, Henry of Burgundy, as an award “for services rendered against the Moors.” In fact, Alfonso was so pleased with Henry, that he betrothed his thirteen-year-old daughter Teresa to the new count. Henry was fourteen years older than Teresa, who was to govern with Henry as the Countess of Portugal.

1096 The First Crusade

Meanwhile, things were heating up once again in Jerusalem. As some people say, “All good things must end.” Back in 1071, Muslim armies from the Seljuk Empire north of Palestine attacked the Christian Byzantine Empire from the East, pushing them west and threatening to take control and destroy the Byzantine capital of Constantinople.

The Seljuk Empire was a consolidation of Muslim tribes in today’s Turkey, Iraq, western Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the northern part of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and everything in between except Cyprus. The empire had been gaining strength for about fifty years. The Seljuk warriors were known as the Turks. They had a reputation for fighting mercilessly.

By 1085, the Turkish armies had conquered Syria and Palestine and were taking over the peninsula that is now Turkey. That left only a hop, skip, and jump over the narrow Bosporus Strait before they reached Constantinople. The Byzantines were terrified.

Byzantine Emperor, Alexius I, sent an urgent appeal to Pope Urban II in Rome, asking for help. “After much deliberation,” Pope Urban implored the Christian princes [kings] of western Europe [mostly France and Germany, since Alfonso VI in Iberia was busy fighting Yusuf ibn Tashfin] to defend the eastern Byzantines and help rescue the Holy Land from the Turks. One of the Christian monarchs, William the Conqueror, had become both England’s and France’s prince when his Norman forces invaded England five years earlier.

Pope Urban called upon all westerners, rich and poor alike. His appeal stated that the “infidel Turks” were advancing on Christendom and oppressing them. He complained they were attacking and defiling Christian churches, turning some into horse stables, and demolishing the rest. Worst of all, the Pope said, the Muslims had taken possession of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that Empress Helena had built.

The Pope promised that if a man died fighting in the service of Christ, he would receive absolution [freedom from guilt], and the remission of sins [his sins would be forgiven so he would not be sent to Hell or Purgatory]. The First Crusader armies marched towards the Holy Land with the battle cry, “God will it.” [They did not recognize that God might have been on everyone’s side, not just theirs.]

The Crusades are remembered as a series of bloody battles fought by knights in shiny armor. The reason we are including them in this book is because, in many ways, they set the stage for European expansion.(1)

The First Crusade was meant to push the Muslims back from taking Constantinople. Ultimately, the series of battles that followed were fought over control of Jerusalem.

As we already know, Jerusalem was important to Christians because it was the holy city where Jesus was crucified and where other important moments in Jesus’ life occurred. Jerusalem was important to the Jews and Christians because it was where King David established the first capital of the United Kingdom of Israel, and where David’s son Solomon built his magnificent temple. Jerusalem was important to the Muslims because it was the third holiest city, a focal point for Muslim prayer, and where Mohammad made his night journey. All three religious groups thought the Gates of Heaven were in Jerusalem. Therefore, they wanted to be buried there so they would be close to the gates on the Day of Judgement.

Canaan, where Jerusalem was located, was important to everybody because it was a crossroad connecting all of Asia, Europe, and Africa. For that reason, as a land mass, it was, and still is, very difficult to defend. In its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged twenty-three times, attacked fifty-two times and captured and recaptured forty-four times(3).

The Crusade campaign lasted nearly 200 years. Seven officially numbered crusades – as well as many small pilgrim groups who journeyed without the backing of the Pope – marched toward the Holy Land planning to take it back from the Turks. Only the First Crusaders succeeded – and theirs was only a temporary fix.

A minority of crusaders were fighting for Christianity. The majority were on a greedy march to gain control of land and the riches of the Far East [Solomon’s gold]. Thousands of people died unnecessarily because of insincere motivation, a lack of unity, and poorly managed armies.

Most of the First Crusaders traveled by land. That involved a disastrous traverse through the properties of their Byzantine neighbors. As the westerners moved across Greece, they plundered and pillaged for food and treasure and made enemies out of their former allies. After many months, the soldiers reached Muslim territory. Continuing slowly eastward, they took siege and then conquered Turkish cities. Nicaea [now Iznik in Turkey] fell to their armies in 1097. Antioch [now Antakya, Turkey] fell in 1098. Tripoli [now the largest city in northern Lebanon] fell to the crusaders in 1098. There was great loss of life on both sides. Only a fraction of the army that set off from western Europe finally scaled the walls of Jerusalem in July of 1099 and took the Holy City.

Once in Jerusalem, the crusaders behaved more abominably than they did when they crossed through Greece – worse than the worst barbarians who plundered Rome 600 years earlier. As the crusaders rampaged the city, they brutally attacked nearly everyone they came across. They had been ordered to kill everyone wearing a beard – Jews and Muslims. But often Christians wore beards, too.

In 1101, two years after they reached Jerusalem, the crusaders turned for home to celebrate their victories. The First Crusaders had taken possession of Jerusalem. But the pillaging, ransacking, and looting earned the western Europeans the reputation of having “no faith at all save blood and wealth.”

The Outremer

The crusaders left behind a network of Christian states and cities over which they had taken possession. The network reopened trade between east and west, and for a while, allowed the Christian nations [primarily the Venetians] to control the trade gateway. The new network, known as the Outremer [from the French word, overseas] included the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Antioch, Tripoli, Acre, and the County of Edessa. The King of Jerusalem served as the leader of the pack.

Two independent armies helped protect and control the Outremer: the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights Templar. Both organizations were sanctioned by the Pope as religious orders and set in place in Jerusalem to protect the visiting pilgrims [and control the gates between East and West].

The Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem

Since 1023 [for seventy-five years], the Hospitallers had been running a hospital in Jerusalem to care for sick and wounded pilgrims. The order, still thriving today, dates its founding as a Benedictine nursing order, then a Christian military order, to a knight known as Gerard. The Pope granted the order its charter in 1048 for the “care and defense of Christians in the Holy Land.” It is sometimes referred to as the Hospitallers and sometimes as the Order of St. John.

The Knights Templar

The Knights Templar formed after the First Crusade, in around 1119 CE. The name originated from the position of their headquarters on the Temple Mount. At first the religious order was referred to as the “Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon,” since it was started by nine impoverished knights. The crest [logo] for the Knights Templar displayed two white knights carrying white shields with red crosses.(4) Two knights rode a single horse to symbolize their poverty.

Similar to the Knights of the Order of Santiago who protected Pilgrims visiting Santiago de Compostela, the Order of Knights Templar protected Christian pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem. While they were at it, they planted their armored feet in the doorway to the silk roads. Legend claims that they possessed the jewels and golden plates from Solomon’s Temple that had been hidden away when the temple was destroyed centuries earlier.

Notes

  1. You might find that studying the Crusades gives you some insight into the naming of some of New England’s cities.
  2. Spread the Word of God, or Spread the Gospel.
  3. “Do We Divide the Holiest Holy City?” Moment Magazine. Archived from the original on 3 June 2008. Retrieved 5 March 2008. According to Eric H. Cline’s tally in Jerusalem Besieged.
  4. The text around the exterior of the seal, “SIGILLUM MILITUM XPISTI,” meant “Seal of the Army of Christ.”

Next article: Portugal’s Independence