Jewish History >> Crusades

Crusades were religious conflicts that occurred in Eastern Europe, Spain, Egypt, and the Near East during the Middle Ages. The Crusades were religious campaigns conducted by Catholic Europe against Jew, Muslims, pagans, and heretics. The Crusades are most popularly associated with campaigns in the Holy Land in order to establish Catholic control over religious sites.

The Crusaders dominated the territory of Palestine for 200 years after following an appeal by Pope Urban II. The crusaders came from Europe to attempt to recover the Holy Land from the people whom they deemed as “infidels.” In 1099 the knights of the First Crusade captured Jerusalem after a five-week siege. These knights massacred most of the city’s non-Christian inhabitants. The Jews barricaded themselves in their synagogues and attempted to defend the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem. They were eventually burnt to death or sold into slavery by the Crusaders. Over the next few decades the Crusaders extended their power over the rest of the territory of Palestine – through treaties and agreements – but mostly via bloody military victories.1

The Crusaders opened up transportation routes from Europe and pilgrimages to the Holy Land became popular. At the same time, there were also an increasing number of Jews who sought to return to their homeland. After the overthrow of the Crusaders strongholds by Saladin and his Muslim army in 1187 the Jews were again accorded some measure of freedom and the right to live in Jerusalem. The Crusaders regained a foothold in the territory of Palestine after Saladin’s death in 1193 but their presence in the Holy Land was limited to a network of fortified castles. The authority of the Crusaders ended in 1291 after a final defeat by the Muslim Mamluks.1

There were a total of nine crusades lasting from 1096 through 1272.

First Crusade

The Crusade was called for by Pope Urban II at a council at Clermont-Ferrand in November 1095. Those who obeyed the Pope’s calling affixed crosses to their outer garments and thus became known as croisés, crociati, or crusaders but the Jews termed them to’im – wanderers. Initially there was nothing in the proclamation of the Pope that was threatening to the Jews. However, it appeared that the Jews of France had sensed danger and sent their emissaries to the Rhine communities to warn them of a potential threat.2

The first group of Crusaders gathered in France while on their way to Germany and eventually the Holy Land. While on their way to France the Crusaders had already attacked Jewish communities in Rouen and Lorraine. The sight of the wealthy Jewish communities in the Rhineland acted as an incentive to the Crusaders who had decided to punish “the murderers of Christ” whenever they encountered them. The leaders of the Mainz Jewish community asked for assistance from Emperor Henry IV who wrote to the church leaders and nobles of the empire forbidding them from harming the Jews. The communities of Mainz and Cologne presented Godfrey of Bouillon with a gift of 500 pieces of silver and upon receipt he promised to leave them in peace. However, other Jewish communities were not so fortunate.2

*Eleven Jews were killed when the Crusaders were unable to break into the synagogue in Speyer. A Jewish woman preferred death to conversion and inaugurated the tradition of freely accepting martyrdom for the “Glory of God.”2

*Eight-hundred Jews were killed in Worms with a few accepting conversion and surviving the massacre.2

*More than 1,000 Jews were killed in Mainz either through murder or suicide. Those who managed to escape were soon overtaken and almost no one survived.2

*The bishop of Cologne dispersed the town Jews in an attempt to hide them however the Crusaders found them and quickly slaughtered them.2

*The bishop of Trier could not protect the Jews since he himself had gone into hiding. He advised the Jews to become Christians but the great majority refused and preferred to commit suicide.2

*All the Jews at Regensburg were dragged to the Danube where they were flung into the water and forced to accept baptism.2

*At Metz, Prague, and various other areas of Bohemia one massacre was followed by another until they came to an end when Emicho’s Crusaders were defeated by the Hungarians.2

In total, there had been more than 5,000 victims of the Crusaders throughout France and the Rhineland.2

On June 7, 1099 the Crusaders reached Jerusalem and captured the city on July 15, 1099. Godfrey of Bouillon entered Jerusalem through the Jewish quarter where the Jewish inhabitants, alongside their Muslim neighbors, defended themselves. They finally sought refuge in the synagogues which were then set ablaze by the Crusaders. Those not burned in the fires were massacred or sold as slaves – some being redeemed by Jewish communities in Italy. The Jerusalem Jewish community ended and was not reconstituted for many years. The communities of Ramlah and Jaffa were dispersed. The Jewish communities of the Galilee was however untouched.2

Second Crusade

In 1144 the Crusaders lost Edessa and Europe became troubled about the fate of their kingdom in Jerusalem. As a result a new Crusade was proclaimed by Pope Eugene III. In 1198 the Pope ordered that no interest could be charged on debts owed to the Jews by the Crusaders when the Crusaders were absent. In addition, any interest that had already been collected had to be returned. This order led to the immobility of Jewish capital for extended periods of time and it also led to the possibility of total confiscation.2

*In 1146 the Cistercian monk Radulph implored the Crusaders to attack the Jewish communities of the Rhineland and avenge themselves on “those who crucified Jesus” before they set out to fight the Muslims. Bernard of Clairvaux was able to stem the flow of these attacks and as a result the deaths and expulsions were lesser than those of the First Crusade.2

*A few isolated Jews were killed in August and September while at Cologne the Jews were protected by the bishop and found refuge in the fortress of Walkenburg. The bishop even had the leader of a mob blinded for killing Jews.2

*There were a few victims at Worms and Main but there were more than 20 Jewish victims of the Crusaders at Wuerzburg. A large number of Jews sought refuge in the local castles and mountains.2

*In Bohemia about 150 Jews were killed with an equal number killed in Halle and Carinthia.2

As with the First Crusade the Jewish communities of France suffered less than those of the Rhineland. In England the Jews were left in peace and unscathed. Jews who had been converted by force were permitted to return to Judaism. By the following summer order had been restored and the Jewish communities recovered. The Crusaders had concurred Ashkelon in the Holy Land but otherwise the Jewish and Samaritan communities seemed to have been left relatively undisturbed.2

Third Crusade

In the Holy Land the Muslims became united under Saladin and began attacking the Crusader sites in the territory of Palestine. The defeat of the Crusaders and the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 to Saladin were declared a disaster. Pope Gregory VIII proclaimed that the fall of Jerusalem was punishment for the sins of the Christians across Europe. Therefore, declared the Pope, a new Crusade must begin.3

When Jerusalem fell to Saladin the Jews of Europe were made to suffer the consequences. In 1182 Emperor Frederick I of Moravia placed the Jews of his empire under his protection for which he was given substantial payment by the Jewish communities. When the fall of Jerusalem occurred the Emperor forbade all anti-Jewish sermons and again promised to protect his Jewish subjects. In 1188 the Jewish communities of Mainz, Speyer, Strasbourg, Worms, and Wuerzburg all sought refuge in nearby fortified castles. The small number of Jews who stayed at Mainz was under the protection of the Emperor and his son as well as the local bishops. These communities again paid large sums of money to the Emperor and the Church in order to help ensure their protection.2

The most savage repercussions against Jewish communities during the Third Crusade occurred in England. England had not taken part in the first two Crusades but Richard the Lion-hearted decided to take part in the Third Crusade.2

*In Lynn the bulk of the Jewish community was massacred as were the communities in Norwich and Stamford.2

*In Lincoln the Jewish community was saved through the intervention of royal agents.2

*In Bury St. Edmunds 57 Jews were killed.2

*The worst attack took place in York where a number of local indebted nobles attacked the Jewish community in order to rid themselves of their debt burdens to the Jews. Some Jews were saved by taking refuge in the Castle Keep which was opened for them by the guard. On the eve of Passover Rabbi Yom Tov ben-Yitzhak realized that all hope was lost. He asked his fellow Jews to commit suicide rather than be forced to convert. After setting fire to their possessions more than 150 Jews another committed suicide. Those who remained behind in the town were massacred.2

In 1191 in the Holy Land the Crusaders managed to capture the city of Acre (Acco). Saladin had tried to arrange an exchange of prisoners with King Richard. However, King Richard thought that Saladin had delayed too long and had 2,700 Muslim prisoners executed which prompted Saladin to execute all his Christian prisoners. In the fall of 1191 King Richard conquered Jaffa where he established his new headquarters with the idea of using it as a launching place to reconquer Jerusalem. King Richard and his army attempted to recapture Jerusalem in the winter of 1191 but were pushed back by the weather and forced to retreat to Ashkelon. During the winter months King Richard’s army refortified Ashkelon. In the summer of 1192 the Crusaders made another attempt to take back Jerusalem but were forced to turn back due to infighting. Saladin had in the meantime reconquered Jaffa but the city was eventually retaken by the Crusaders. In September 1192 Richard made a treaty with Saladin where Jerusalem would remain under Muslim control but unarmed Christian pilgrims would be permitted to visit the city.3

Fourth Crusade

The fourth had little direct impact upon the Jewish communities of Europe of the Holy Land. The Fourth Crusade was initiated by Pope Innocent III in an attempt to regain Jerusalem for the Crusaders. The plan was changed however and instead of pushing through to Egypt and then the territory of Palestine the Crusaders invaded and sacked the Eastern Orthodox Christian city of Constantinople. The Crusaders established an eastern kingdom in the Byzantine lands they conquered.4

“The last four expeditions, the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Nineth [sic] crusades [that] were undertaken by the Christians of Europe against the infidels of the East, may be conveniently grouped as the Minor Crusades. The Minor Crusades were marked by a less fervid and holy enthusiasm than that which characterized the first movements, and exhibit among those taking part in them the greatest variety of objects and ambitions.”5

Fifth Crusade

In 1208 Pope Innocent III called for a fifth Crusade in order to regain control over Jerusalem. In 1215 the Pope called together the Fourth Lateran Council in part to discuss the recovery of the Holy Land by the Church. The plan was to have the papacy control the Fifth Crusade as it had the First Crusade in order to avoid the mistakes of the Fourth Crusade. The plan was for the Crusaders to begin their journey in 1216. In 1216 Pope Innocent III died and Pope Honorius III organized the Crusaders under King Andrew II of Hungary and King Leopold IV of Austria. In 1217 King Andrew and his army arrived in Acre (Acco) and began their fight against the Muslims in Syria. In the meantime the Muslims destroyed the fortified walls of Jerusalem so the Crusaders could not protect the city if they managed to conquer it. After the walls were destroyed the Muslims fled the city in fear of another massacre. The Crusaders suffered many defeats in the Holy Land, Syria, and Egypt.6

Sixth Crusade

The Sixth Crusade was started in 1228 by Frederick II as an attempt to regain Jerusalem. There was actually very little fighting and Jerusalem, Nazareth, Jaffa, and Bethlehem (as well as other Christian cities) were placed back into the Crusaders hands via negotiation. In 1229 Jerusalem was formally placed back in Crusader hands and a ten-year treaty was produced between the Muslims and the Crusaders. During the truce the Muslims maintained control over the Temple Mount, the Transjordan castles stayed in Ayyubid hands, and according to Arab sources Frederick II was not permitted to restore Jerusalem’s fortifications. The truce expired in 1239 and Jerusalem was taken by the Turks in 1244.7

Seventh Crusade

The Seventh Crusade was led by Louis IX of France. In 1249 the Crusaders landed in Egypt and sieged Damietta where a base was established in the hopes of launching an attack to retake Jerusalem. In November 1249 Louis and his army marched toward Cairo but were attacked by Mamluk Baibars and eventually, after the starvation and death of many Crusaders, forced to return to Damietta. In 1250 Louis was taken captive and his army was destroyed. After surrendering Damietta Louis left for Acre (Acco) where he formed a new base to rebuild other Crusader cities – primarily Jaffa and Saida.8

Eighth Crusade

The consistent attacks of the Mamluks against Crusader cities prompted Louis IX of France to take up another Crusade in 1267. Louis decided to attack Tunis first and make it a base for attacking Egypt. In 1270 Louis and his army landed on the African coast but much of his army became sick from contaminated water. Louis himself died from an infection and his brother Charles led the Crusade. Due to further disease Tunis was abandoned by the Crusaders after two months. An agreement was made with the sultan and Christians gained access to free trade with Tunis as well as a residence for the monks and priests in the city. With the abandonment of Tunis, Charles’ ally Prince Edward of England set sail for Acre (Acco).9

Ninth Crusade

The Crusaders had several victories under Prince Edward of England against the Baibars from 1271-1272. Ultimately the Ninth Crusade came to a draw when Edward was unable to resolved internal conflicts and was forced to return home due to circumstances in the English kingdom. This last Crusade showed that the Crusading spirit was almost extinct and it “foreshadowed the imminent collapse of the last remaining crusader strongholds along the Mediterranean coast.”10

Aftermath of the Crusades

For the Jews, the Crusades came to symbolize the opposition between Judaism and Christianity. The tension that was aroused by the persecutions of the Jewish communities during the Crusader period was far more severe than those that existed since the origins of Christianity. Christians saw the Jews “as the implacable enemies of their faith and in this climate the *blood libel became widespread. From the 12th century comes the first expression of the idea of a Jewish plot against the Christian world.”2 A source of inspiration for the Jewish community was found in the memory of the martyrs during this period of Jewish history. There was no hope of vengeance so the massacre of the innocent was “glorified and compared to the sacrifice of Isaac. The suicide of the martyrs was seen as a collective act for the sanctification of the Divine Name.”2

The Crusades and their attendant degradation were firmly imprinted on the historic consciousness of the Jews. This period became singled out in the popular mind as the start of, and explanation for, the misfortunes of the Jews, although in fact the excesses were only symptomatic of a process which had already been set in motion earlier. The Crusades marked in various ways a turning point in the history of the Western world, and this was reflected also in Jewish history. Through capturing these events they magnified their significance, but thereby furnished an ideal of conduct which was constantly recalled to mind whenever severe persecutions befell the Jews.2


1The Crusader Period.” The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2013.
2Crusades.” The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2008.
3Third Crusade.” Wikipedia, n.d.
4Fourth Crusade.” Wikipedia, n.d.
5Linda Alchin. “Minor Crusades.” Middle Ages, n.d.
Fifth Crusade.” Wikipedia, n.d.
7Sixth Crusade.” Wikipedia, n.d.
8Seventh Crusade.” Wikipedia, n.d.
9Eighth Crusade.” Wikipedia, n.d.
10Ninth Crusade.” Wikipedia, n.d.