The Evolution of Crusading Rhetoric

Jamin Dabkowski


Among the key objectives of the First Crusade was the return of the Holy Land to Christian hands, and the Second Crusade and Third Crusades sought to reclaim Crusader territory that had been captured by the native Muslim armies. Clearly, this early crusading ideal was predicated on the conquest of territory with religious importance to Christianity. However, beginning in the mid-twelfth century, while the Second Crusade was in progress, Christian preachers and writers began to extend the idea of crusading to conflicts in Northern Europe. The Northern Crusades led to a change in crusading rhetoric and allowed for a multitude of militaristic actions to be carried out in the name of crusading, despite the actual objectives or locations being unrelated to those of the early crusading movement. The sieges of Zara and Constantinople, key battles in the Fourth Crusade, were motivated by Venetian economic interests and earned condemnation and excommunication from the Pope. The Seventh and Eighth Crusades were launched by French kings, with little to no involvement from the papacy. This increased secularization of crusading showed just how far the term had come from its origins. The word “crusade” would continually evolve from securing the Holy Land, to securing Christian lands, to expanding Christian lands, to little more than a word used to evoke the memory of the First and Second crusades. By looking at a variety of primary sources, including calls for crusade and papal bulls, this paper will argue that shifts in medieval European understanding of “just war” and the “other” can be seen through the evolution of the crusading ideal.


Crusades; Christianity; Rhetoric

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