The Crusades - Part One
December 13, 2013
The Third Crusade
January 3, 2014
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Crusades part 2

CONTENT WARNING: the following articles may contain some disturbing content including religious commentary, mild language, crude humor, descriptions of medieval war, and irreverent interpretations of sacred texts. *Note: This article was originally written in 2013.

The Christian Crusades (Numbers 1-9) : 1095-1272 C.E.

a medieval book with art depicting knights in the Crusades

PART TWO – The Crusades Continue!

Previously on EPiK FAILs – I explained a little bit of the convoluted back-story leading to The First Crusade: the history of Islam, Jerusalem, the Byzantine Empire, and the Catholic Pope’s call for a Holy War against ‘non-believers’. (Click for PART ONE – The Cause of the Cross)

The (FIRST) Crusade: 1095-1099

Crusading Knights on horseback charging forward. (scene from 'Kingdom of Heaven')

Atari game: 'Adventure'When people think of Crusading Knights they often think of:

  1. Prince Charming in shining, stainless steel, armor astride a… unicorn?
  2. Batman punching scary clowns in the face.
  3. That one scene everyone likes to quote from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”
  4. King Arthur, Lancelot, and Merlyn taking out a dragon ‘Gauntlet Legends’ style.

While none of those answers are wrong, they’re not exactly historically accurate.

During the Middle-Medieval Period, the Feudal Kingdoms of Europe had a rigid hierarchy based on land ownership:  monarchs, nobles, barons, bishops, serfs, and last and definitely least: the lowly 99% – the peasants. Right in the middle of all that was another class: the school of knighthood. Medieval Knights were kinda like a cross between the Police and the Marines. These armor-laden rent-a-cops were hired out as private security for farmers and vassals alike.

Feudal Hierarchy (pyramid diagram)

Feudal Hierarchy

According to many a myth and legend, Knights lived by a code of chivalry. Although knights were expected to defend the weak, be courteous to women, and give mercy to vanquished foes, many knights were notorious for quite the opposite. The funny thing about this righteous policy of conduct is that it technically didn’t apply to peasants, unmarried women, or ‘infidels’ (aka anyone of a different viewpoint).

The People’s Crusade

While the Pope’s call to arms inspired many to set off to ‘take back’ the “Holy Land”, most were content with forming angry flash mobs and burning down synagogues. What many historians have dubbed ‘the First Holocaust’, the Rhineland massacres were perpetrated by this ‘Peasant’s Crusade’ which claimed the lives of countless Jews in communities throughout France and Germany in an antisemitic wrath.

When Pope Urban II called for a draft of knights, archers, and anyone else willing to take up a sword, he sweetened the deal by offering free land, wealth, and a get out of Hell free card. In response an army of 60,000 Crusaders set off for the Holy Land without hesitation. The Crusading pilgrims strapped on their chain-mail and armor, with a tent, and sack of food over their shoulders, they grabbed their weapons, and set out on the excruciatingly long walk to the holy land through some of the harshest conditions on Earth. If you think an 8 hour drive is tough, try trekking 2246.9 miles – on foot! The lucky ones had horses, but I don’t exactly envy them either.

scene from 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'

And then of course there were those who were too cheap for horses, so opted for coconuts instead.

The First Crusade, like the Odyssey of Greek Mythology, was wrought with bad omens and horrific occurrences. All in all, these campaigns were an organizational nightmare. The first Crusader army to arrive, led by Walter Sans Avoir and Peter the Hermit, was decimated by the Seljuk forces of Kilij Arslan at Nicaea, due to a fatal breakdown of leadership.

During the march to ‘take back’ Jerusalem, the remaining Legions of Crusading Knights met up in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), the capitol of the Byzantine Empire: the leaders of Christianity on the Eastern front. Upon arrival, the Byzantine Emperor, Alexius, forced the tired and hungry Crusader leaders to swear allegiance to him in exchange for food. From there, the knights besieged Nicaea, at which point Emperor Alexius usurped the city of Nicaea from the Catholic Crusaders.

After being double-crossed by Constantinople, hundreds of Crusaders died along the journey to the Holy Land, through the desert and the Anti-Taurus Mountains. When the disgruntled mercenaries finally reached the Christian city of Edessa, they took it over, through excessive force. Because that’s probably what Jesus meant by Love thy neighbor

Their next stop: Antioch.

a medieval depiction - the Siege of AntiochThe Siege of Antioch was a rather one-sided conflict.

The Frankish Knights attacked without warning. Antioch was the first of many Muslim cities on their hit list. The Crusading invaders relentless bombarded the town with catapults, launching boulders at the high stone walls of the fortress till they gave up, and / or starved to death inside. Once they ran out of large rocks they opted for anything else they could launch as a projectile which more often than not resulted in dead bodies and horses being flung through the air as a disturbing albeit resourceful form of psychological and biological warfare. Waste not want not?

Once the walls of Antioch were breached the exhausted Knights couldn’t tell the difference between the Christian and Muslim town-folk, so just to be on the safe side, decided to KILL THEM ALL! (and sort out the paper work later)

Among many of the unthinkable acts the ‘Christian’ mercenaries undertook, perhaps the most evil atrocity of this entire Crusade occurred at Maarat al-Numaan. After initial success at Antioch, Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse, and Bohemond, Prince of Taranto, decided to keep up the momentum, and march their forces onward towards Damascus. On the long desert road their supply lines began to run dry, so they looked around for the closest town to ransack.

The wheel of misfortune pointed towards the city of Maarat that day.

Batman looks horrified.The knights built a siege tower, fought off a ragtag militia, and infiltrated the city’s walls only to discover the people had fallen on hard times, and were rather low on supplies themselves. Some of the Crusaders shrugged it off, and continued on towards Jerusalem, but some had more nefarious deeds in mind…

According to multiple chroniclers of the time, the citizens of Maarat, (both Christian and Muslim, women and children alike) were butchered and roasted by the crazed Crusaders! The entire city was burned to the ground for good measure. These barbaric war crimes were a form of ethnic cleansing, but that’s not the worst of it: eyewitness accounts were horrified to report that the blood-thirsty knights cannibalized the remains of the dead!?

“Some people said that, constrained by the lack of food, they boiled pagan adults in cooking-pots, impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled,” writes Radulph of Caen. Fulcher of Chartres wrote his own eyewitness account, “I shudder to tell that many of our people, harassed by the madness of excessive hunger, cut pieces from the buttocks of the Saracens already dead there, which they cooked, but when it was not yet roasted enough by the fire, they devoured it with savage mouth.” W.T.F.

When news of the atrocities finally arrived in Rome, the Church was shocked, but by then it was far too late to do much about it. In the end they figured the ends justified the means, and brushed aside the notion of genocide. All that mattered was ultimate victory, at any cost.

Jerusalem: Under Siege (again)

The Muslims of Jerusalem were calling for a peace treaty by the time the Crusaders finally arrived at the ancient walls of the kingdom after a 3 year journey of suffering and madness. The Crusading caravan of murderous berserkers had at long last arrived at their final destination on their cross-continent tour of carnage and mayhem. And on the 14th of July, 1099 – they attacked the Holy City itself, without mercy.

Imagine Armageddon… set in the 11th Century.

Crusade graphic novel art - arrows, swords, shields, piling bodies with a cross on top.A relentless onslaught of flaming arrows and catapults rained down upon the Holy Land. This particularly barbaric siege was led by a ragtag bunch of reject nobles without a cause: Robert II of Normandy (son of William the Conqueror), Raymond of St. Gilles, Godfrey of Bouillon, Bohemond of Taranto, Tancred of Hauteville, and Baldwin of Boulogne. Swords clashed against shields as the bloodbath ensued.

I figure it was probably a lot like being stuck in the middle of a cross between ‘the Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and ‘Escape from New York’, well minus Snake Plissken, nuclear launch codes, and New York… actually now that I think about it, it was probably nothing like ‘Escape from New York’, and much more like a random slasher film times a billion.

During the assault, two timber siege towers were constructed overnight to scale the 50 foot high stone walls of Jerusalem. Once the walls were breached, Jerusalem was seized in a frantic bloody conflict – a free for all battle royale. The citizens of Jerusalem were indiscriminately slaughtered on Jesus’s home turf: Muslims, Jews, AND Christians.

THOUSANDS of citizens were murdered by these savage mercenaries throughout the First Crusade. The Crusader’s stab-happy victory only reinforced the belief that God was on their side. “Heaps of heads and hands and feet were to be seen throughout the streets and squares of the City.” 

painting of knights fighting within the walls of Jerusalem

Thou shalt not kill – Mission Accomplished.

In 1099, Godfrey of Bouillon established the (New) Kingdom of Jerusalem. Godfrey, a true knight of chivalry, denounced the title of King, for that honor already belonged to Christ. After his death however, Godfrey’s greedy brother, Baldwin, had no qualms about crowning himself King of the newly established Crusader states of Jerusalem, Edessa, Antioch, and Tripoli.

All in all, the First Crusade was a flawless victory… (that is if you can call slaughtering entire cities of noncombatants a win.)

Meanwhile, as word spread across the Middle-East, the Muslim communities were flabbergasted by the wanton violence perpetrated by the Crusaders in the name of God. In response to the Crusades, the Muslim Turks decided to take up the sword. They began to form a rebellion, a Jihad, to take back their city from the violent Frank invaders.

In 1144, they decided to strike back, starting with Edessa

The SECOND Crusade: (Crusade II: Revenge of the Templars) 1147–1149

Templars playing chess

Crusade 2.0 started out as a call for reinforcements, 50 years after the first one.

In that time, the Knights Templar were established as the defenders of Jerusalem. The Templar Knights were a highly trained elite order of Knights given special privileges and economic support by the church in exchange for maintaining control over the Palestinian region. The Templars were identified by white robes with crimson red crosses, and buckets over their heads. They took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Church, which is funny, because they were notoriously greedy womanizing mercenaries. By serving as a Knight, they were absolved of all sin: past, present, and future. This was problematic since the only ones they answered to were a few thousand miles away. This period also saw the rise of a new elite order of soldiers in the Muslim world: the Brotherhood of Assassins (or hashashins), the reactive response to the Templar Knights and their brutal tactics.

screenshot from the first "Assassin's Creed" game (Ps3)

Map of the Crusades region - 1135It was also during this period that many a Christian pilgrim went East in search for a better life, often bringing their entire family to settle down in Jerusalem. Some sought the legendary relics of Christ in the Holy Land: the Spear of Destiny, the Holy Grail, The Cross itself, and the Shroud of Turin to name a few. Although many archaeologists today believe that these ‘artifacts’ were ‘discovered’ by scam artists looking to make a quick buck from gullible tourists.

Countless pilgrims made their journey across the treacherous desert, a path strewn with the bones of those who died along the way. No one was there to bury them. To stop and dig a grave was a death sentence. It wasn’t just the elements to be feared, the region was rife with bandits, and Arabian Rebels against the Knights of the Holy Roman Empire.

By this time most of the veterans of the First Crusade had died out, so the Church, under Pope Eugenius III, began recruiting all over Europe. The County of Edessa had fallen, so the united forces of France, England, and Germany marched forth once again. They rendezvoused at Constantinople before setting out for Damascus. The Crusading armies were split into two factions led by Conrad III of Germany, and Louis VII of France.

This would prove to be disastrous for all involved.

Knight covered in blood on a battlefield strewn with bodiesThe Second Crusade was by and large a total and complete failure by all accounts. This failure can be attributed to several factors, most notably the lack of communication between the two armies resulting in the decimation of both military units that were overwhelmed by the defending Turks. It also didn’t help that Europe was constantly fighting against itself. It would seem that the Church was much more concerned about conquering Jerusalem, not so much with the long term goal of maintaining their hold over it, as support for those that gave their lives for it was minimal at best.

This tremendous defeat during the Second Crusade resulted in an under-protected Jerusalem, economic downturn all across Europe, and an influx in enemies throughout the Turkish-held lands.


After consolidating power throughout the Middle-East, Saladin, the Muslim Sultan of Syria and Egypt, eventually retook Jerusalem with ease in 1187 at the Battle of Hattin. This of course led to yet another Crusade to retake the Holy Land. As a result, Richard the Lionheart, King of England was called into action, and the ultimate battle for Jerusalem began… once again!

Will the Crusaders ever be able to reclaim Jerusalem? 

Find out next time in – PART THREE – Richard the Lion Heart vs Saladin!

                                                                                        Erik Slader

Hope you enjoyed this edition of “Epik Fails!”, if you have any comments, questions, concerns, or suggestions let me know in the comments below! Also, be sure to ’Like’ EPiK FAILs on Facebook, or Follow on Twitter, and SHARE IT with your friends!

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— Sources:

“The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam” by: Jonathan Riley-Smith

a cartoon of various knights massacring 'infidels' saying 'repent!'“History’s Greatest Defeats: THE CRUSADES – Failed Holy Wars” by: Cherese Cartlidge

“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to: The Crusades” by: Paul L. Williams, Ph.D.

“Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade” by: James Reston, Jr.

“A History of the Crusades” by: Steven Runciman

“The Hinge Factor” by Erik Durschmied

“Brassey’s Book of Military Blunders” by Geoffrey Regan

“The Little Book of Big F*#k Ups” by Ken and Katie Lytle

“The Book of Ancient Bastards” by Brian Thornton

“Crusade” (graphic novel series) By Jean Dufaux and Philippe Xavier

“The Crusades: The Crescent and the Cross” (2005 – documentary)

“Kingdom of Heaven” (2005) – Directed by: Ridley Scott. Starring: Orlando Bloom and Eva Green.

Erik Slader
Erik Slader
Erik Slader is the creator of “Epik Fails of History” a blog (and podcast) about the most epic fails… of history. With Ben Thompson, Erik is the co-author of the Epic Fails book series. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Media, once managed a comic book shop, has a weakness for fancy coffee and currently lives in Green Cove Springs, Florida with too many cats.


  1. […] To be continued… in PART TWO – Crusades One AND Two!! […]

  2. […] Previously on EPiK FAILs – I explained a little bit of the convoluted back-story leading to The First Crusade: the History of Islam, Jerusalem, the Byzantine Empire, and the Catholic Pope’s call for a Holy War against ‘non-believers’. (Click for PART ONE – The Cause of the Cross) I then recounted the gory details that played out during the events of the First and Second Crusade: how the Crusading Knights committed wholesale slaughter against Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike, how Jerusalem was laid siege, and how 50 years later calls for reinforcements were met with failure as the Turks began to strike back, bringing the fight to the Templars… (PART TWO – Crusades One AND Two!) […]

  3. […] for PART ONE – The Cause of the Cross), and the events of the first couple Crusades (PART TWO – Crusades One AND Two!), I then gave a detailed account of how Saladin, the Sultan of Syria turned the tide against the […]

  4. Skip Siemon says:

    It should be noted that the Crusades were a retaliation to hundreds of years of Muslim aggression. (reference: Pope Urban did not decide one day that he didn’t like Muslims.
    This is apt with regards to the resurgence of the movement to solidify a Caliphate in the Middle East today. Imagine the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching into France today. Charles Martel saved the West from such a fate at the Battle of Tours, 732AD. As did many other great Christian Knights, including King Richard the Lionheart.
    And contrary to popular opinion by those who think they know they Bible, the majority is written about personal behavior and very little is about government. But there is Romans 13:4: “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Remember, Jihad works both ways.

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