1187 The Third Crusade

In 1187, thirty-three years after al-Idrisi drew his World Map, and forty-two years after the Second Crusaders returned from Palestine, a Third Crusade set off for the Holy Land. By that time the soldiers from the Second Crusade were sixty-year-old men or older.

The new crusaders faced a much more fearsome foe than the First or Second Crusaders did. The Seljuk Turks were under the leadership of the Great Sultan Saladin. [As we noted, all rulers in the Muslim world were referred to as The Great.]

The new crusaders were led by two young kings. One was the brand new King of England, thirty-three-year-old Richard I later known as Richard the Lion-Heart. The other king was even younger, twenty-five-year-old Philip Augustus of France. Philip had been a king for ten years. He was more experienced in battle. However, Richard would prove to be the superior knight. Neither was born yet when the Second Crusaders returned from the Holy Lands. Everything they knew about the Second Crusade was hearsay.

Only Richard’s English soldiers would make it as far as Jerusalem. A large contingent led by the elderly Holy Roman Emperor, Frederic Barbarossa of Austria, drowned in a river in Cilicia in southern Turkey. Philip’s French soldiers made it to Acre, which they captured in 1191. But, after that, they withdrew for home, leaving Richard and his small English army to carry on alone.

Richard celebrated an important victory when his men captured the gold-rich island of Cyprus, strategically located in the Mediterranean Sea west of Palestine. Since Richard was not on a mission to be king of Cyprus, he sold the island to the Order of the Knights Templar. They incorporated it in the Latin Outremer.

King Richard and Saladin the Great fought back and forth. Month after month went by as each side gained ground and then lost it again. Ultimately, in 1189, Saladin claimed victory for the control of Jerusalem. But not all was in vain for Richard. He negotiated an agreement with the Muslims that allowed Christians to, once again, access their shrines in Jerusalem freely and safely.

On his way home, Richard’s ship wrecked and he was thrown ashore on foreign lands. He began trekking toward England. But as he neared Vienna, a group of Austrian soldiers captured and arrested him. They shackled him in iron bars and dragged him to their emperor, Leopold V, Duke of Austria. The very greedy Leopold ransomed Richard for an obscene amount of money. It took England five years to collect and pay it. Leopold finally released Richard in March 1194. If you have read the tales of Robin Hood and Ivanhoe, you know how Richard the Lion-Heart returned to England to find his not-so-nice brother, King John, bullying the poor.

1198 The Fourth Crusade

Only four years later, in 1198, Pope Innocent III issued another bull [holy order] to organize a Fourth Crusade. This time he wanted to keep control of the armies in the hands of the Latin Holy Roman Empire, not Europe’s nobles and lords. But the crusaders would get side-tracked and never make it to Jerusalem.

The crusaders collected in Venice, where well-armed Venetian galleys were hired to transport them to the Middle East. However, the Venetians had something else in mind.

The Venetians wanted to capture the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. As we know, Constantinople guarded the Bosporus Strait, the entrance to the Black Sea. During the days before trains and trucks, the Black Sea was the only access northern countries like today’s Ukraine, Russia, Poland, and Hungary had to trade on the Mediterranean Sea. Constantinople competed with Venice, Athens, and Alexandria as the most important trading ports around the Mediterranean. For protection, the residents of Constantinople had built not one massive stone wall, but three to protect her.

The three layers of walls guarding Constantinople.(1)

Through some shifty maneuvering and bribery, the Venetians coerced the Crusaders into spending their money and using their resources to help capture Constantinople. The combined armies of Venice and the Fourth Crusade took possession of the city in 1204.

The invasion of Constantinople was as barbaric as the invasion of Jerusalem by the First Crusaders. The armies plundered the once glorious metropolis of all the wealth it had accumulated during the previous 1000 years. Then they hauled the loot in their ships to Western Europe. [Important note: This was one of the ways eastern books and artifacts traveled to Venice, where they were collected by wealthy merchants such as the Medicis of Florence, Italy. The recovered information they contained helped launch the Renaissance.]

The Fourth Crusade made the already wealthy and powerful Venetians more wealthy and powerful. Their capture of Constantinople from the Byzantines gave the Venetians an edge over their rivals, the Genoese. Constantinople was demolished and would not return to its former glory until the Muslim Ottomans conquered it 250 years later in 1453 and turned it into a beautiful Muslim City.

1215 The Fifth Crusade

In 1215, at the order of Pope Honorius III, Western Europe launched a Fifth Crusade that was as fruitless as the Second, Third, and Fourth. By that time Saladin’s united Muslim tribes controlled the entire south-eastern coastline of the Mediterranean except the Outremer. The Christians had figured out they could not retain control of Jerusalem while the Egyptian port of Cairo remained in Muslim hands. Ships filled with crusaders headed for Egypt.

The armies of the Fifth Crusade were the largest yet. Frederick of Germany’s army employed 5000 knights and 40,000 foot soldiers, archers, and unarmed pilgrims. Even so, after many battles, many lost lives, and sackfuls of money spent by families and nobles back home, the Fifth Crusade accomplished nothing and Jerusalem remained in Muslim hands.

The Vatican gave up. No more Popes would send armies to the Holy Lands. But the King of France and the King of Germany were not yet ready to relent. King Frederick of Germany led the Sixth Crusade in 1228. He failed. King Louis IX of France led the Seventh Crusade in 1250. He also failed.[ The rest of the crusades have not been officially numbered.] Louis tried again in 1271. He failed again. Prince Edward of England tried in 1270. He failed, too.

The good news is that every returning army transported eastern technology to Western Europe, particularly China’s Four Great Inventions: paper, printing, gunpowder, and the maritime compass. Paper was milled in Spain as early as 1085 and spread through the rest of Europe by 1280. The Germans were printing with reusable and movable type by 1452. Gun powder allowed Westerners to develop large guns, such as canon, and blast through walled cities. And the compass would help guide Europeans west across the Ocean Sea.


  1. Constantinople’s Walls. Attribution: By en:User:Bigdaddy1204 [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

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