Violence in the Crusades

Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem

Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by Crusader forces 1099

Christianity was forever changed on 27 November of 1096 when Pope Urban II called for a Holy Crusade. The first and subsequent crusades were shrouded in violence and hatred and showed a side of Christianity that no one had seen before and created a lasting change on the religion. When Pope Urban II called for the Crusade he promised those who took up arms an offer of indulgences. These indulgences not only forgave these Crusaders of their sins, but it led to another undesired affect. This assurance of the forgiveness of their sins let these crusaders act in violent, merciless ways. One way this was shown was during the Siege of Jerusalem pictured above. From 7 June 1099 to 15 July 1099, Crusaders laid siege to the city. During their siege, and subsequent conquering of the city, the hatred and evil typically uncommon to the Christian religion was spread through the city. The city was home to many Jews and Muslims and when the Crusaders defeated the forces of the Muslim army, they did not stop. The crusade led to a massacre of Jewish and Muslims citizens who were caught in the city. It was noted that in the aftermath of the siege, there was blood "up to the knees" in the city. This violence and hatred shown so clearly would create more hate and animosity between the Christian and Muslim forces that would battle for so many years to come. 

Battle of Ager Sanguinis

Muslim victory at the battle of Ager Sanguinis

"Field of Blood"

 During the Second Crusade there was a battle known as the "field of blood". This battle was the battle of Ager Sanguinis, taking place on 28 June 1119. The Muslim forces, who were now much more organized than they were during the first crusade came back in force at the crusaders during the Second Crusade. The crusader force involved in the Second Crusade was much smaller than the force in the First Crusade. During this battle Roger of Salerno, who was a leader of the Principality of Antioch led his Crusader force against the Muslim forced led by Ilghazi. The Muslim army came into the battle with an intense hatred for the Christians and their encroachment of their land, and their merciless slaughter against their people during the first crusade. Ilghazi's army numbering around 20,000 strong met the crusader force of about 11,000 strong with swift and merciless violence. The aftermath of the battle would be the death of Roger of Salerno, 570 crusaders captured, and 30 executed with the rest of the crusader force being killed. This is just one example of combat during the Second Crusade, but it highlights the ruthlessness that the Muslims came back with after their defeat during the First Crusade. The violence, evil, and mercilessness that the Christians showed during the First Crusade was reciprocated back to them during the Second Crusade. Once again, due to the behavior of the First Crusaders and their un-Christian like behavior, backed by the thought that their sins would be forgiven led to violence not only on their prey, but would later backfire, and cause the same treatment towards their own soldiers. 

Massacre at Ayyedieh

Massacre at Ayyedieh

The violence, hatred, and pure evil that was now becoming more common among Christian Crusaders would continue through the Third Crusade. A key leader and figure of the Third Crusade was King Richard I "The Lionheart" who was the King of England. Although he led the Crusaders through many glorious victories, he would succumb to the harsh, evil, and merciless behavior that so many other Crusaders fell victim to. Shortly after the fall of Acre, King Richard had around 2,000 Muslim prisoners, and his Muslim opponent, Saladin had in his possession around 1,600 Christian prisoners. The two forces decided to conduct a prisoner exchange that would go horribly wrong, and further highlight the sheer violence, hate, and disregard for Christians ideals that the Crusades had been showing up to this point. King Richard thought that during the exchange, Saladin was taking too long. He in turn concluded that Saladin must have been setting up some sort of trap or wasn’t honoring the deal. Therefore, Kind Richard ordered the slaughter of all the Muslim prisoners. Some of his men were skeptical and confused, but nonetheless carried out the order, and all the prisoners would be put to death. Depicted above is the slaughter that ensued. Shown is a few people meeting their death, while thousands around them watched and waited to meet their demise, and highlighing those already killed lying below. Christianity would have never allowed for something like this to happen, but the circumstances led to these horrid events. King Richard and his men knew that they were killing the enemy, and that meant it was all towards the goal of the holy war. They knew that even if it was wrong, that the Pope had again offered indulgences for this crusade, and they would be safe from judgement on these occurrences. Finally, the sheer disregard for Muslims due to the hatred and anger towards them allowed King Richard to give the order of such a horrible thing. Consequently however, the violence shown toward the Muslim Prisoners would be reciprocated on the Christian prisoners. Outraged after seeing this atrocity, Saladin then ordered the execution of the Christian prisoners in his possession. This event highlights the idea that holy war, indulgences, hate, and revenge on both sides led to insurmountable violence that otherwise would not have been permissible by Christianity, and led to events that do not bear the teachings of Christ. 

Affects, Aftermath, and Opposing View:

The hatred, violence, and merilcess killing that the crusades brought is contradictory to the teaching of the Bible and of Christ. While the Crusaders may have had a legitimate claim to the land that was being taken by the Musilms, and rising tension were ensuing, the way the crusaders went about thier Holy War is contradictory to Christianity as a whole. Because of the events that unfolded during the crusades, and the sheer amount of killing, land grabbing, and hatred that arose, has had its lasting affects on both the religion and the world. Today, the struggle isnt quite outright Christians vs. Muslims like it was during the time of the Crusades. However, nations that have been built off the ideals of Christianity and Islam are still waging war against each other, and people are still being killing in the name of "Holy War". The best modern example of this is with 9/11 when Islamic extremeist Osama Bin Laden organized an attack on the World Trade Centers. Because of the ongoing struggle between Christianity and Islam that was amplified during the Crusades, the world is still dealing with this conflict.  Today, Christianity is more aimed at following the teachings of Christ, and following love instead of violence. Christians are still willing to stand up for what they believe, and many around the world who are being persecuted are doing so, but the religion as a whole has moved away from the larger idea of "Holy War" and especially agaisnt ideas of massacre and killings of those who dont deserve it.

As for the Muslims who partook in these wars, the Crusades are seen in a different light. To them, they had a rightful claim to the Holy Land, and their own expansion of power was in the name of Allah, and was justified. The idea of "jihad" is prevalent in Islamic culture, and is a big aspect of why they want to control the Holy Land and expand their influence. To the Muslims, the Crusaders were encroaching on what they had rightfully taken, and the war was seen as an onslaught against Muslims. They felt that they were doing the right thing in defending what they had taken, and that the violence they gave was equal to that the crusaders gave. Additionally, many Muslims did not view these battles as crusades, but rather conflicts, and the idealized image of crusading was not how they saw these endeavours. 


  • Claster, Jill N. Sacred Violence: the European Crusades to the Middle East, 1095-1396. University of Toronto Press, 2009.
  • Gregg, Heather S. The Path to Salvation: Religious Violence from the Crusades to Jihad. Potomac Books, an Imprint of the University of Nebraska Press., 2014.
  • Komnene, Anna, and E. R. A. Sewter. The Alexiad. London: Penguin, 2009.
  • Maalouf, Amin. The Crusades Through Arab Eyes. New York, NY: Saqi, 2012.
  • Richard The Lionheart Massacres The Saracens, 1191,
  • Throop, Susanna A. The Crusades: An Epitome. Leeds: Kismet Press, 2018.

Images Referenced:

  • Signol, Emile. First Crusade: Taking of Jerusalem by the Crusaders, 15 July 1099. 1847. Castle Museum, Versailles, France.
  • Battle of Ager Sanguinis, 1 July 2006,
  • “Massacre at Ayyedieh.” Richard the Lionheart's Massacre, 22 Sept. 2015,

Project by Cole DeRudder