Second Crusade (1144-1187)

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Second Crusade (1144-1187)


Crusader States. After the fall of Jerusalem in 1099 the Crusaders began their control over the various lands and cities that they had captured. Refusing to give these territorial gains either to the Byzantine emperor or to make them papal fiefs as desired by Pope Urban II, the Crusaders set up their own kingdoms: Bohemond Guiscard took Antioch and the area around it; Baldwin of Bouillon captured

Edessa to the northeast; Raymond of St. Gilles established a kingdom in Tripoli (although its seat of power was elsewhere until Tripoli fell in 1109); and Godfrey of Bouillon, who had become the leader of the Crusaders after many other nobles had returned to Europe, became the king of Jerusalem. Yet, most of the Crusaders wanted to return home. They had been traveling under the harshest conditions for more than three years, and most had little desire to remain in the Holy Land with these newly self-appointed lords. As a result, the Crusaders who remained behind faced severe hardships. By the turn of the twelfth century, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was left with only three hundred soldiers to defend it, and other kingdoms had even smaller contingents.

New Conquests. Initially, this development created few problems for the resident Crusaders, especially as they periodically received reinforcements from Europe, younger warriors who wanted to make their names and fortunes in the Holy Land. In addition, neither the Seljuk Turks nor the Fatamid Egyptians were in any state to try and regain their lost lands. At least through the early years of the twelfth century the lack of enemy resistance led to further conquests by the Crusaders. Caesarea fell to them in 1101, Tartous in 1102, Acre and Jubail in 1104, Tripoli in 1109, Beirut and Sidon in 1110, and Tyre in 1124. Furthermore, the resident Crusaders undertook to build large fortifications, stone castles the likes of which had never been seen in Europe, large enough to sustain a garrison for five years in some cases, or, it was hoped, at least as long as it would take to receive relief from Europe. Finally, to make up for the loss of military manpower, three military monastic orders were established in the Holy Land: the Knights Hospitalers, Knights Templars, and Teutonic Knights. These “monks of war” proved at least to be stable fighting elements that could be counted on to vigorously defend all of the conquests that the first Crusaders had made in the Holy Land.

Maintaining the Peace. Yet, even with the addition of the strong fortifications and the monastic military orders, the only clear means of preserving the Crusader Kingdoms was to make peace with neighboring Muslims as well as employing non-Christians to keep internal dissatisfactions from developing into rebellions, to govern the native populations, and to collect taxes. Invariably, such relationships brought criticisms from anyone newly arriving from Europe to serve in the Holy Land, especially as the rhetoric in Europe was so anti-Muslim. Nonetheless, they also soon saw the necessity for it.

New Threat. In 1144 the city and kingdom of Edessa fell to a new Seljuk Turkish army. Edessa was not a well-protected Crusader State, being quite a distance from the other kingdoms and with no natural defenses guarding it. Also, a recent inheritance crisis over the kingship there had left the Crusaders divided and easy targets for reconquest, especially as the army that did the reconquesting was led by a young general named Nar-ad-Din. Although Nar-ad-Din would direct his army around the remaining Crusader Kingdoms toward Egypt, the Crusaders had no means of knowing that this was his plan, and they immediately put out a call for a second Crusade to travel to the Holy Land.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux. The Second Crusade was spurred on by preachers such as St. Bernard of Clairvaux, whose call to arms is exemplified in this passage from one of his sermons:

The earth trembles and is shaken because the King of Heaven has lost his land, the land where he once walked.… The great eye of Providence observes these acts in silence; it wishes to see if anyone who seeks God, who suffers with him in sorrow, will render him his heritage. … I tell you, the Lord is testing you.

Quarrelsome Leaders. Among the Crusaders to “take the cross” this time were two kings, Conrad III of Germany and Louis VII of France. However, unlike their first crusading counterparts, these leaders had absolutely no success at all. First, they quarreled with the resident Crusaders whose dealings with the Muslims they felt were treasonous; in turn, the resident Crusaders resented these new arrivals, no matter what their rank or status, for interfering with their own military leadership. The plan of the resident Crusaders was simple: they wished to take this second Crusade army north to Aleppo, a city controlled by one of Nar-ad-Din’s lieutenants. However, the Second Crusaders saw a closer target, Damascus, a city controlled by the Muslims, although allies to the Crusaders and enemies of Nar-ad-Din. Despite this fact being made clear, on 24 June 1148 the Second Crusaders decided to advance on the allied Damascus. Their attack failed, largely because of the bickering of the two kings. Met with this defeat, Conrad III immediately set out for home. Louis VII lingered a bit longer, but in the summer of 1149 he, too, returned to Europe without attempting further military action.

Saladin. With the Second Crusade a defeat for the Christians, Nar-ad-Din began to extend his power in the region. Damascus, weakened by the Crusaders’ attack, fell in 1154, and Egypt fell in 1168. Nar-ad-Din died in 1174, but he was succeeded by an even greater general, his nephew Saladin. Fervent in jihad zeal, while at the same time patient and chivalrous, Saladin inherited control of all of the territory surrounding the Crusader States. His next moves seem to have been clear, and the resident Crusaders quickly sued for peace with the Turkish leader. As the strongest military figure they had ever faced, the Crusaders clearly needed time to regroup and build their defenses before Saladin’s threat to them became realized. Perhaps, too, they could gain more reinforcements from Europe.

Fall of Jerusalem. Instead of cooperating, the Crusaders began to bicker over their defense plans. What the regent over the kingdom of Jerusalem, Count Raymond III of Tripoli, wanted the Master of the Templars, Gerard of Ridfort, did not, and vice versa. Peace broke down finally in 1185 when the child king of Jerusalem, Baldwin the Leper, died. Because there were no heirs, an election was held to replace the king. Raymond of Tripoli, who had served as regent for the king since 1174, felt that he deserved this most important kingship, but the other barons chose Guy of Lusignan instead. Raymond immediately made a separate alliance with Saladin against the other Crusaders, the first result of which was the annihilation of 130 Templars in an accidental battle against a large part of Saladin’s army. Saladin then laid siege to the Crusader city of Tiberias. The Crusaders tried to relieve the city, but were surrounded by Saladin’s force at the Horns of Hattin on 4 July 1187, where they were defeated. Following this victory, Saladin moved against the now largely undefended city of Jerusalem, which he conquered on 2 October 1187. Remembering the outrageous massacre of all the town’s inhabitants by the First Crusaders nearly a century before, Saladin allowed all Christians there to be ransomed to safety.


Hans Eberhard Mayer, The Crusades, translated by John Gillingham (London: Oxford University Press, 1972).

Jean Richard, The Crusades, C.1071-C.1291, translated by Jean Birrell (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades: A Short History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987).

Riley-Smith, ed., The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, three volumes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951-1954).

R. C. Smail, Crusading Warfare, 1097-1193 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956).