The First Crusade and Early European Intellectual Developments

The First Crusade and Early European Intellectual Developments


The First Crusade, launched in 1096, was a religious conflict fought by European Christians to reclaim the Holy Land from Muslim control. The campaign was successful, and Jerusalem was ultimately taken in 1099. Ongoing warfare continued for two decades in the Crusader States, with the establishment of military orders such as the Knights Templar and the Order of St. John. Meanwhile, Europe saw an intellectual revival with the rediscovery of classical learning, the emergence of creative writing, and the establishment of new research centres and book production systems.

Table of Contents

  • Jewish response to the Crusades
  • Early Crusades and Formation of the Military Orders
  • Successes and Internal Strife in the First Crusade
  • Aftermath of the Crusades and Consolidation of the Crusader States
  • Intellectual Developments in Europe


Jewish communities seemed to take extreme measures during the Crusades. Can you elaborate on this?

Yes, during the Crusades, Jewish communities were often threatened with forced conversion to Christianity. In many cases, Jewish women encouraged men to take their lives rather than convert, and some parents even killed their own children as a supreme act of devotion. Mass suicide was a rare occurrence in Judaism before this time, but subsequent events were considered legitimate responses to the threat of forced conversion, with the heroism of those martyred celebrated in poetry that became part of the liturgy of the synagogue.

What were the differences between the Peasants’ Crusade and the Princely Crusade?

The Peasants’ Crusade was led by Walter the Penniless and Peter the Hermit, and comprised a rag-tag group of troops who often faced suspicions. They were eventually transported across the straits to Asia Minor but suffered defeat when a large group of German crusaders was forced to convert to Islam or be deported. In contrast, the Princely Crusade was composed of experienced aristocrats who were relatively better-equipped and supplied. They made promises that any lands they conquered would revert to the Byzantine Empire and counted on over 40,000 troops. The Princely Crusade was more successful than the Peasants’ Crusade, with overwhelming victories in battles such as Dorylaeum and Ereghli.

Were there any internal conflicts during the First Crusade?

Success often breeds strife, and the same was true for the commanders during the First Crusade. While initially united in their ambitions, some demurred at forswearing their solemn oaths and began to voice their disagreements openly. Disease also afflicted the ranks, leading to the fracturing of the crusade as many of the rank and file rallied around lesser lords. Despite these difficulties, the Crusade ultimately succeeded in taking Antioch and Jerusalem.

What was the aftermath of the First Crusade?

The First Crusade culminated in the taking of Jerusalem and the election of Godfrey of Bouillon as its ruler. In response to a subsequent Muslim invasion led by the Egyptians, the crusaders managed a decisive victory near Ascalon. However, the Crusade was far from over, and intense warfare went on for two decades in the efforts to consolidate the Crusader States. During this time, military orders such as the Order of St John and the Knights Templar came into being to care for pilgrims and offer military defence.

What were some of the intellectual developments in Europe during this time?

The twelfth century saw the rediscovery of classical learning, including works by Neoplatonism and Plato’s Dialogues, translated into Latin. Though pagan ethics were partially at odds with Christian beliefs, many Christian thinkers domesticated the available content of these works and allegorized them. There was also an emergence of creative writing and recovery of classical styles in Latin poetry, with poets employing new ways of writing or emphasising different conceits such as using non-consonantal rhymes or complex end-of-line rhyme schemes. The proliferation of knowledge was encouraged by the establishment of new monasteries, each requiring libraries which became research centres, and by the establishment of libraries and a book production system in European cities and towns.


The First Crusade had lasting impacts not just in the Middle East, but also in Europe where it spurred significant intellectual developments. From the establishment of military orders to the rediscovery of classical learning, the legacy of the Crusades has had far-reaching effects that can still be seen today.

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