Although the Crusades can often be seen as a time of conflict between the Christian World and the Muslim World, co-operation between the two sides was also very prevalent. The Crusades could be defined as a Holy War undertaken by Christians to win Jerusalem. Although both sides were waging a war against each other, they both knew it was in there best interest to help one another in certain situations. With co-operation the region would be a much more stable place and an increased financial benefit would befall both parties. Thusly it benefited both sides to co-operate with each other while engaging in a war which is a naturally conflict laden situation.
The Crusades were a series of wars launched by the Pope against the Muslim inhabitants in the Holy Land of Jerusalem. The First Crusade was launched by Pope Urban II in 1095. The Pope declared war on all of the inhabitants of the Holy Lands and all of his Christian followers followed his lead and eventually won control over the Jerusalem in 1099. The Crusaders set up Crusader nations in the Holy Land which were basically states controlled by the Crusaders.
Between the years 1100 and 1177 there was relative peace in the Holy Lands with Muslims and Christians working together to further progress in the region. That all changed in 1187 when Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt, recaptured the Holy Land for Muslim rule. Saladin was also the founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty based in Northern Iraq. Crusades between the Christians and the Muslims continued for another hundred years and the Holy Lands are still a hotly debated area to this day.1
There were obvious conflicts between the Muslims and the Christian Crusaders as both cultures were at war with each other. The Crusaders would come through cities and sack and pillage them even if they were not Muslim. They were basically mercenaries fighting for whichever force paid them the highest figure or offered them the best deal. On one such raiding trip they destroyed Constantinople because it would be beneficial for merchants and their trade routes. If the Crusaders could do that to their allies, they could do much worse to their enemies at war.
Since most of the Crusaders were descendents of people which were previously thought of as “barbarians” they were well adept in the skills needed to sack and pillage. These were the same people who destroyed the Roman Empire through constant nomadic attacks.
The main cause of the Crusades seems to be the widespread spread of Islam as a religion and the fear of it spreading into the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire followed Catholicism but they were part of the Eastern Orthodox sect like the Greeks due to a schism from the main Catholic Church in 1077. The Pope coupled the issue of defended the Byzantine Empire with capturing Jerusalem from the Muslims who inhabited it. The Pope and westerners were also very intrigued over the prospect of trade with the eastern and Muslim world. Luxury items which were previously unknown to the Crusaders were very prevalent in these lands.
All of this however could not be possible without the rise of the Church in what is now Western Europe. The Pope had grown to an epic figure in the world because a great population followed Catholicism and because he had the power of excommunication. At any point and for almost any reason, the Pope could excommunicate any member of the Catholic faith who did not follow the rules. This made the rulers of the kingdoms throughout Europe deathly afraid of the Pope; this system of power by the Pope lead to the rise of Feudalism. The Feudal system gave the Pope soldiers to fight their wars in serfs and higher army officials in knights. Knights were trained to fight and commanded their army of serfs to defend Catholicism.
One of the most popular views of the Muslims from the Crusaders comes from Burchard of Mt. Sion. He was a German Dominican friar who lived in Palestine from the 1270’s until the 1280’s. “These people have no fixed dwellings, but wherever they learn that there is pasture, thither they go and pitch their tents. They are exceedingly warlike.” 2 Burchard goes to say, “None of the sultans have hitherto been able to subdue them, but they make their own laws and customs and follow them as they choose. They are a terror to all the nations round about because of their exceeding fierceness.”2 The Crusaders viewed the Muslims completely differently than the Muslims viewed the Crusaders. This perception led to many issues between the two parties.
There was a great deal of conflict going on between the two parties but there was always a sense of co-operation. In his account of life in the early 1180’s, Abu ‘l-Husayn Mohammed Ibn Ahymad Ibn Jubayr, a professor from a Muslim state in Spain, gave insights on how these two forces co-operated. “Our way lay through continuous farms and ordered settlements, whose inhabitants were all Muslims, living comfortably with the Franks.”3 The Franks were a group of Crusaders hailing from what is now France. “They surrender half their crops to the Franks at harvest time, and pay as well a poll-tax of one dinar and five qirat for each person.” 3 The system seemed to be modeled after the early system when serfs would work the land and give tribute in the form of money and crops for protection. But the Muslim equivalents of “serfs” were treated much better. “Other than that, they are not interfered with, save for a light tax on the fruits of trees. Their houses and all their effects are left to their full possession.” 3 While the serfs in Catholic nations were treated as slaves, they were not even allowed to leave the land controlled by their knight. They worked tirelessly for just protection and the little bit of food they would be allowed to eat. Sometimes the serfs even starved to death while in Catholic controlled Muslim regions; the people were treated much better. Ibn Jubayr goes on to say, “Their hearts have been seduced, for they observe how unlike them in ease and comfort are their brethren in the Muslim regions under their [Muslim] governors. This is one of the misfortunes afflicting the Muslims. The Muslim community bewails the injustice of a landlord of its own faith, and applauds the conduct of its opponent and enemy, the Frankish landlord, and is accustomed to justice from him…”3 The Muslim people believe that they are treated with much more respect and fairness from their Frankish landlords even though these two people are at war.
This policy just does not seem to make any sense though. Why would Frankish captors be so friendly to their captives? There seems to be many reasons for this. Ibn Jubayr was able to travel to Mecca from Spain because he was in a large caravan of Christian merchants. Trade was a huge reason between the co-operation between the Muslims and the Christians. Christian merchants were able to get extremely rare and previously unknown items such as spices, ivory, jade, diamonds, oranges, apples and other Asian crops and products. These new trade routes proved to be invaluable and a main reason for co-operation.
Another reason for co-operation was the distance from home. The Crusaders were thousands of miles from home and living with Muslims who they were at war with. If they would have been terrible to their captives they would have faced massive uprising on almost a daily basis. It would have taken reinforcements an extremely long time to get there to defend their fellow Crusaders.
The Muslims on the other hand co-operated because they viewed their captors as easier to get along with then their Muslim leaders. They also feared that if they tried to up rise the Crusaders would take over their land completely and treat them like serfs in their own Empires of what is now Western Europe.
Although most people would believe that conflict would be the major force during the Crusades, co-operation between the two cultures was an integral part of any success in the region. Both parties benefited from the increased financial revenues from trades. The Christian’s found it was easier to rule over the Muslim populated Crusader States if they were more amicable to the Muslim people. The problems of conflict versus co-operation are still very relevant in today’s world mainly with the war in Iraq. The Iraqi people are in an intense war-like environment but they are battling whether to co-operate or escalade confrontation.
1Ayyubid Dynasty.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 5 Mar. 2007 http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9011523>.
2 S.J. Allen and Emilie Amt, The Crusades: A Reader. Pages 121 – 124.
3 S.J. Allen and Emilie Amt, The Crusades: A Reader. Pages 108 – 111.