The Crusades are one of the most significant events in the history of Europe and the Middle East. They were a series of religious wars carried out by Christian crusaders from Europe during the timeframe of the Middle Ages. Beginning in 1095 CE, the Crusades saw European knights and noblemen travel to the Middle East in an attempt to capture the Holy Land away from Muslim people that had controlled the region for the previous centuries. The term crusade means ‘cross’. Therefore, the Europeans that became crusaders viewed themselves as ‘taking up the cross’. In fact, many of the crusaders wore crosses on their clothing and armor as they made their pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This article details the events of the Third Crusade. Click here to read more information about the other major Crusades.
The Third Crusade took place from 1189 until 1192 CE and was a major event in the history of the Crusades. The Third Crusade was sparked by a few events. Firstly, the failure of the Second Crusade in 1148 left a lasting impression in Europe, and caused many to want to return to the Holy Land and fight for control of the territory. Secondly, the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187 was the immediate cause of the Third Crusade.
To this point in history, Jerusalem had been controlled by the crusaders and was the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which was a Crusader State. The crusaders of the First Crusade had established several ‘Crusader States’ during the timeframe of the First Crusade, including the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The leaders of the First Crusade established these states as a means of controlling the territory and creating a base from which they could launch further attacks into the region of the Holy Land. However, Jerusalem was captured by Muslim forces during the Siege of Jerusalem, which lasted from September 20th to October 2nd in 1187. At the end of the battle, the city of Jerusalem was surrendered to Saladin, the leader of the Muslim forces, and founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty. The Muslim capture of Jerusalem caused the outbreak of support in Europe for the Third Crusade. This is because Jerusalem was symbolically important to the cause of the crusaders in the Holy Land. For instance, for Christians, Jerusalem was the site of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. As such, the city was vitally important to their understanding of the teachings and history of Jesus, and they considered holding it necessary to their religious faith. Saladin and his forces continued their expansion beyond Jerusalem and capture Acre later that same year.
In response to the gains of Saladin and the Muslim forces in the Holy Land, the Pope responded by calling for a new crusade. In fact, it was written that Pope Urban III died from shock after hearing news of the death of Christian crusaders in the Battle of Hattin. The Battle of Hattin occurred on July 4th, 1187 and saw the crusader forces in the Holy Land soundly defeated by the Muslim forces. The losses were so terrible for the Christians that the Muslims gained control over the vast majority of the Holy Land, and prevented the Christians from carrying out any meaningful conflict. This led to the call for the Third Crusade. For example, the new pope, Gregory VIII, called for the Third Crusade on October 29th, 1187.
Thousands from across Europe ‘took up the cross’ and participated in the Third Crusade. More specifically, historians estimate that anywhere from 36,000 to over 70,000 crusaders made the journey to the Holy Land as part of the Third Crusade. Furthermore, several major monarchs were involved in the Third Crusade, including: Richard I of England, Phillip II of France and Frederick Barbarossa of Germany (Holy Roman Empire). As such, most of the crusaders came from these three regions, although it is important to note that many other crusaders came from all across Europe.
Barbarossa’s Crusade began in May of 1189 after months of preparations. Barbarossa decided on making his way to the Holy Land via a land route across Europe. Furthermore, he left on the 11th of May in 1189 with approximately 15,000 crusaders. He gained more crusaders as he travelled east across Europe and towards the Holy Land. This Journey east took him through major centers including: Hungary, the Byzantine Empire and other regions of the Balkans. He and his army reached the Turkish territory in 1190 and soon began facing constant attacks from Turkish forces. This caused Barbarossa and his crusaders to carry out the Battle of Iconium on May 18th of 1190. This battle saw the German forces, led by Barbarossa, defeat the Turkish defenders at the Turkish stronghold of Iconium. Iconium is located just north of the Crusader States in modern Turkey. However, Barbarossa’s success in the Holy Land was short-lived as he died on June 10th, 1190. While crossing a river on horseback, Barbarossa was thrown from his horse and drown. This was important because many of his crusaders abandoned the crusade and returned home.
As stated above, the French and English also played a significant role in the Third Crusade. First, it’s important to note that the French and English were actually at war in the timeframe before their participation in the Third Crusade, and actually ended their conflict to ally together in the journey to the Holy Land. England’s participation in the Third Crusade actually first began under the leadership of King Henry II, however he died on July 6th, 1189. The new king, Richard I, took over as leader of the English in the crusade and immediately went to work forming the necessary crusaders and supplies. In fact, Richard I met with the French king, Phillip II, on July 4th, 1190 in Vézelay, France and the two set out together with their crusaders towards the Holy Land.
From there Phillip II and the French marched to Genoa, where they hired Genovese ships to transport them to Acre, where they arrived in May of 1191. For their part, the English and Richard I marched to Sicily, where they were met by the English fleet in the city of Messina. From there, they sailed to the Holy Land and arrived near the city of Acre in June of 1191, just a month after the French.
Upon arriving near Acre, the crusaders began preparing to attack the city of Acre, which was held by Turkish forces. What followed was the Siege of Acre, which was a major battle in the Third Crusade. In the Second Crusade, the Muslims leader, Saladin, had captured large sections of the Holy Land, including Acre. Phillip II and Richard I combined their forced with the local Christian rulers and overran the city of Acre on July 12th, 1191. The victory was significant for the crusaders and helped push back against Saladin’s control over the region. Following the victory at Acre, Richard I marched his forces south to the city of Jaffa. This was an important position to hold for the crusaders as it was on the route to Jerusalem, which was the main goal of the crusaders. Richard I and his forces met Saladin’s soldiers at the city of Arsuf and the two sides carried out a major conflict referred to as the Battle of Arsuf, which took place on September 7th, 1191. During this battle, Richard I’s crusaders overwhelmed Saladin’s soldiers and forced them to retreat. This gave the Christian crusaders an important point from which to launch an attack on Jerusalem, which was also held and controlled by Saladin.
The city of Jerusalem was the heart of the fighting of the Crusades. The city was centrally located in the Holy Land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea. While the history of the city itself goes back much further, it was a significant site in the Crusades because of the importance it holds in the three main religions of the region: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. For Christians, Jerusalem was the site of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. As such, the city was vitally important to their understanding of the teachings and history of Jesus.
While the main goal of the crusaders in the Third Crusade was the capture and hold the city of Jerusalem, it proved difficult for the forces of Richard I and Phillip II. The Christian crusaders had made major gains in the Holy Land, and held important coastal regions north of Jerusalem, but ultimately failed to capture the city. For instance, Richard I had hoped to carry out a direct assault of Jerusalem and recapture it from Saladin, but he was stalled for months with negotiations among the local Christian rulers. In fact, in June of 1192, the crusaders came close to assaulting Jerusalem, but were ultimately forced to retreat due to a lack of organization and planning among the Christian leaders.
In all, the Third Crusade was a mixture of successes and failure for the crusaders. It was a success in that the crusaders made strategic gains in the Holy Land, and formed an important stronghold around the city of Acre. However, Richard I was heavily criticized for his failure to carry out a complete attack on Jerusalem and recapture the city for the Christians.
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