The Crusades, Part 1: What made the Holy Land so Holy?

Hi all! Today we are going to be doing the first post on a series on the crusades. Enjoy!

So, what were the Crusades? You have probably heard that it was a bunch of dudes going to some place which was their holy land and conquering it. But who were they, who did they conquer, and, in general, how did this play out? To understand the Crusades and why they happened, were going to need to go WAAAAY back.

The city of Jerusalem initially was founded as a small village under the Kingdom of Judah. Unluckily for them, they were constantly being conquered by larger warring factions surrounding them such as the Babylonians to the East and the Assyrians to the North. Eventually, the Babylonians won and conquered Jerusalem, and forced the Jewish people out of their city, so they fled south into Egypt. The Babylonian empire grew and grew, taking over more land until it controlled a large chunk of the Middle East.

The Babylonian Empire at it’s full extent.

Now, there was a small tribe right to the east of the Babylonian empire known as the Persians. Their king Cyrus had a great vision for his people, so he took the few warriors he had and declared war on the massive Babylonian empire. They simply laughed from their walls, telling him and his soldiers that mere farmers could not defeat them. But somehow, they did. City by city, Cyrus led his warriors in great conquest against the Babylonian empire, each victory making him more powerful. Eventually he took the great city of Babylon, sealing the final nail in the Babylonian empires coffin. Eventually it fell apart, and he conquered the rest. Cyrus was a kind ruler, so he invited the Jewish people to return from exile and go back to their holy land. And so they did, and believe me, this earned Cyrus some pretty serious street cred in the bible.

Now, unlike the Babylonian empire, the Persian empire was kind to it’s people and so instead of having to brutally invade territory, the Persians were often invited there. Anyways, the Persian empire eventually grew to an enormous size, encompassing all of the middle east. Eventually they decided to expand west, too. The current king at the time, Darius, decided Greece was the first step in the process. The Greeks did not submit, and so he fought a bunch of really nasty wars with them called the “Greco-Persian” wars. But they get they’re own post. All in all, the outcome was that by the time they were over, both Darius and his son Xerxes were dead and the Persian empire had lost the war and failed to conquer Greece. The Greeks were salty, so eventually one of them named Alexander decided to conquer the entire Persian Empire. (Again, he deserves his own paper.) Now Alexander decided he would call his empire the Macedonian empire because he came from a place north of Greece called Macedon. When he died, his empire was so darn big that everyone wanted to inherit it (a classic problem) and so each of his most esteemed generals made a grab at it. Thus, things returned somewhat to normal as old empires like Egypt and Greece reformed, but with new rulers.

Alexander was not the only Greek to leave Greece- Greeks began to settle all over the Mediterranean. One of them had settled in central Italy and named itself Rome. Rome quickly expanded, but I cannot give you a history of the Roman Empire because I don’t think I can write 20,000 pages. As the power of Rome expanded, it eventually overcame these various powers and took over the near east. Around 395 AD, the Roman empire split into the Eastern and Western Roman empire. After the Western Roman empire fell, the Eastern declared itself the Byzantine empire. But slowly they lost their territory until all they controlled was Greece and west Turkey. But now new powers were rising. The empires of the east like the Sassanids were being conquered by a man named Mohammed who was spreading a new religion in the east: Islam. Meanwhile, the broken colonies of the West began to form into their own kingdoms. They changed older Orthodox Christianity into something new: Catholicism. Older religions such as Orthodoxy, Zoroastrianism, and various Polytheistic religions began to be taken over as these two new religions spread voraciously. The thing was, both Islam and Catholicism got their roots from Judaism and so both of their holy lands were in Israel. Mohammed’s empire grew and grew. Eventually, he died, marking the beginning of the Rashidun Caliphate. Meanwhile in the West various Catholic kingdoms began to define themselves. Eventually, powers developed everywhere such that the old world looked like this:

In Greece and western turkey lived the Byzantines, in this map called the Roman Empire, in northern Africa lived various Islamic powers, and in Europe Nations like France and England began to form. This is where we stop, because we are about to hit the crusades. This may have been a lot, but it’s gonna pay off. We have now defined the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They all wanted their holy land back, but they all agreed only one of them could have it. And yes, I am now going to leave you at a cliffhanger. Come back next time for more!

2 thoughts on “The Crusades, Part 1: What made the Holy Land so Holy?

  1. You wrote;
    Eventually, the Babylonians won and conquered Jerusalem, and forced the Jewish people out of their city, so they fled south into Egypt.

    Weren’t they mostly exiled to Babylon?

    Like

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