In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Crusades

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historiography
  • Primary Sources
  • Journals
  • The Third Crusade, 1188–1192
  • The Fourth Crusade, 1202–1204
  • The Fifth Crusade, 1217–1221, the Crusade of Frederick II, and the Barons’ Crusade
  • The Seventh Crusade, 1248–1254, to the Fall of Acre, 1291
  • The Albigensian Crusade
  • The Military Orders
  • The Knights Templar
  • The Knights Hospitaller
  • The Teutonic Knights
  • The Later Crusades
  • Crusading Warfare in the Baltic and Iberia

Military History The Crusades
Jonathan Phillips
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0035


The history of the Crusades is a long and complex story. At the Council of Clermont in November 1095, Pope Urban II called the knights of Europe to a holy war to free Jerusalem from the Muslims in return for unprecedented spiritual rewards. The response was far beyond his expectations. Tens of thousands of people, motivated by spiritual zeal and also a blend of honor, obligation, adventure, the search for profit, and, for the few hundred who stayed on, land, set out for the Levant. Their journey heralded a new age in which Christianity and warfare were more closely linked than ever before, a situation that required some theoretical justification but, in a period of such intense religiosity, gave conflict with those labeled as the enemies of Christ a far harsher edge. Crusading brought numerous military issues to the fore: diverse groups of westerners—often rivals at home—had to learn (or not) to work together. They also had to deal with new tactics and to cope with the physical hardships of Asia Minor and the Levant. Once in the Holy Land, the Franks (as they became known) had to govern as a minority population, and this also affected their military structures and strategies coexisting with the various indigenous peoples of the Levant, both Christian and Muslim. Eventually, the leadership of Nur ad-Din and his illustrious successor, Saladin, revived the Muslim holy war (jihad). In 1187 the Franks lost Jerusalem but managed to hold on to their coastal territories; a series of large expeditions attempted to regain the holy city during the 13th century, but the fall of Acre in 1291 meant the end of Frankish rule. In the meantime, crusading had evolved to include campaigns in Iberia, the Baltic, and southern France (against the Cathar heretics), and involved conflicts with political enemies of the papacy and against the Mongols. The loss of the Holy Land did not mean the end of crusading, because campaigns in Spain and northern Europe continued, while the Ottoman threat to Europe was a further stimulus to holy war. Warfare in the eastern Mediterranean also continued, with the Italian trading cities and the Knights Hospitaller prominent. By the time of the Reformation, however, crusading was in steep decline. The focus here is on military matters, but the bibliography includes overviews and introductory material to present the subject in a theoretical and historical context. There is also a need to see the Crusades from all sides, so where possible there is coverage of (particularly) the Muslim perspective.

General Overviews

There have been a number of fine histories of the Crusades over recent years, and each has its own slant or points of interest. Jotischky 2004 is of particular use for the history of the Levant; Madden 2005 and Jaspert 2006 are concise, clear overviews of the subject; and Riley-Smith 1991 is an excellent visual tool for the history of the Crusades. Tyerman 2006 is the most detailed of those works cited here. Riley-Smith 1995 (in the form of an edited essay collection) and Phillips 2009 (often using biographies to move the narrative along) take a broader view of the subject, bringing the story into to modern times. To these should be added the excellent Murray 2006, which is a genuinely invaluable reference resource for all matters connected with the subject. Two widely available but, in terms of approach and coverage, more dated works are Runciman 1951–1954 and Setton 1969–1989.

  • Jaspert, Nikolas. The Crusades. Translated by Phyllis Jestice. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2006.

    A concise and accessible book that covers crusading, settlement, and the military orders in western Europe and the Middle East from the late 11th to the late 15th centuries.

  • Jotischky, Andrew. Crusading and the Crusader States. Harlow, UK: Longman, 2004.

    This confident and authoritative book is largely concerned with the origins and evolution of crusading ideology and practice, as well as the Frankish rule in the Levant. It is also good on Crusader society and the gathering pace of the Muslim response to the Frankish presence. Brief looks at crusading’s other theaters of war and the attempts to recover the Latin East after the fall of Acre in 1291 are also useful.

  • Madden, Thomas F. The New, Concise History of the Crusades. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.

    A lucid analysis of the motives that impelled so many Europeans to take up arms against the enemies of the church. The discussion also includes the impact of the Crusades on the worlds of Islam and Byzantium, as well as in western Europe.

  • Murray, Alan V., ed. The Crusades: An Encyclopedia. 4 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2006.

    This massive work maintains a high standard across the vast range of entries and includes very useful bibliographies as well. It is tremendously useful as a research tool and as a way of checking information quickly and confidently.

  • Phillips, Jonathan P. Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades. London: Bodley Head, 2009.

    This is a lively, wide-ranging work covering the Crusades from the medieval period to the modern day. Although the majority of the book looks at the struggle between Christianity and Islam in the Middle East (considering both perspectives), it also examines holy war in Iberia, the Baltic, and southern France, as it follows the evolution and mutation of the crusading idea and experience.

  • Riley-Smith, Jonathan S. C., ed. Atlas of the Crusades. London: Times Books, 1991.

    An excellent volume that presents maps and brief descriptions of all the major crusading expeditions in Europe and the Middle East during the medieval period, as well as covering important issues such as pilgrimage, settlement, castles, and the military orders. A vital visual foundation for the understanding of crusading warfare.

  • Riley-Smith, Jonathan S. C., ed. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1995.

    An accessible multiauthored work that covers the historiography and the origins of the Crusades through the expeditions to, and settlement of, the Holy Land, as well as their impact on the Muslim Near East. Taking a “pluralist” perspective, further essays discuss crusading in the late medieval period and the continued use of crusading imagery in the modern period in politics and culture.

  • Runciman, Stephen. A History of the Crusades. 3 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1951–1954.

    A beautifully written narrative work responsible for inspiring generations of historians, students, and general readers. The author’s fierce admiration of the Byzantine Empire meant that the Crusaders were coarse, greedy, and barbaric; holy war was characterized as an act of intolerance in the name of God, with the sack of Constantinople in 1204 being the worst of these deeds. It has limited consideration of the religiosity of western Christendom and little serious analysis.

  • Setton, Kenneth M. A History of the Crusades. 6 vols. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969–1989.

    An enormous endeavor that was conceived before World War II. It suffered from its slow rate of production, often struggling to keep abreast of historiographical trends. It contains some sound narrative chapters, and the later volumes extend into art, architecture, and more cultural issues. Available online through the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.

  • Tyerman, Christopher. God’s War: A New History of the Crusades. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006.

    A massive work with a fine contextualization of the First Crusade. Tyerman is particularly strong on the practical preparations for the major crusading expeditions to the Holy Land.

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