Book Review: God’s Battalions – Chapter 10: Crusades Against Egypt

March 22, 2011

This is part of a multi-part review of God’s Battalions by Rodney Stark. The summary is here. You can use the table of contents found there.

The problems in maintaining control of the Holy Land were apparent. It was relatively easy to win battles against the Muslim forces but holding conquered lands had proved difficult. The solution that was decided upon was to take Egypt.  Control of Egypt would take the pressure off of the Middle East and provide a strategic advantage.  The Fourth Crusade had started as an attempt to take Egypt but the need to deal with Constantinople derailed the effort. The Fifth Crusade was perhaps the largest of the crusades. Unfortunately, it went poorly from the start. It was marked by unexpected resignations and bad leadership. They landed in Egypt and after some initial contacts the Muslim forces were prepared to surrender Jerusalem in order to keep Egypt. The Christian generals were prepared to accept the offer but Count Pelegius, put in charge of the forces by the pope, declined the offer. After a series of battles and several more offers for treaty, the crusaders suffered setbacks and were forced to accept a treaty that did not include Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was taken by Frederick II who had come to crusade after being threatened with excommunication by the pope for not going. Egypt, likely weary from battle, was still ready to surrender the city. Jerusalem stayed in Christian hands for 15 years until it was taken by Turkish nomads who then joined forces with Egypt.

These efforts were followed by an impressive effort by King Louis IX (St. Louis) who led a well organized attack on Egypt winning some impressive battles. But in the end, due to a variety of circumstances lost men and supplies due to a miscommunication, his troops surrendered leading to his temporary capture. After paying a large ransom he was released. In the subsequent years, other cities that had been taken during the crusades fell back into Islamic hands.

When they took Antioch, they massacred the Christian population. Stark notes the curious fact that most histories of the crusades spend time discussing the sack on Constantinople and the massacre of Jerusalem but rarely discuss the Muslim destruction at Antioch at the close of the Fifth Crusade. By all contemporary accounts, the massacre was brutal, thorough and complete. Blood flowed in the streets.

St. Louis longed to go back to the Holy Land and retake Jerusalem. As he gathered an army and set out, he grew ill. Before any major engagements commenced, he died.

The crusading spirit didn’t die with St. Louis but it raised doubts that had long been present.

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