Crusader states

Worshipping God or land grabbing? It is difficult to say which of the two defined the Crusader states. These were four territories established in the Middle East after the First Crusade. In this article, we will cover the founding of the Crusader states and how they were governed, as well as their decline and fall. 

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Table of contents

    What were the Crusader States?

    The Crusader states were territories in the Middle East that were conquered during the First Crusade (1096–99).

    Crusader States Crusader States Map  StudySmarterA map of the Crusader States. Source: Armitchell125, CC-BY-SA-4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

    They were also known as Outremer, which means overseas in French. There were four Crusader states: the County of Edessa (1098-1150), the Principality of Antioch (1098-1287), the Kingdom of Jerusalem (1099-1291), and the County of Tripoli (1102-1289).

    The Kingdom of Jerusalem covered what is now Israel and Palestine as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The northern states covered what is now Syria, south-eastern Turkey, and Lebanon.

    How were the Crusader States ruled?

    As you can imagine, the Crusader states were a huge territory that was difficult to control. Who ruled them and how did they do it? Let’s take a look.

    Godfrey of Bouillon

    The Kingdom of Jerusalem was the most important of the four Crusader states as it was the largest and it included the city of Jerusalem, which made it the centre of Christendom. This meant that the ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem exerted the most influence over the four states.

    Godfrey of Bouillon was elected as the first leader of the Kingdom in 1099. He was one of the crusader leaders during the First Crusade and he played a key role in the siege of Jerusalem in 1099. Godfrey refused the title of King because he thought it was unacceptable to wear a ‘golden crown’ in the same place that Christ had worn ‘a crown of thorns’. Instead, he took the title of Defender of the Holy Sepulchre.

    Baldwin I

    Godfrey died a year later, in 1100, after which his younger brother, Baldwin of Boulogne, also a crusader, took up the rulership. He was crowned the first King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, in 1100. Baldwin I significantly expanded the territories of the Crusader states. He also strengthened his right to rule in the Middle East by marrying the daughter of an Armenian noble, called Arda.

    Crusader States Baldwin I picture StudySmarter Image of Baldwin I of Jerusalem, Wikimedia Commons.

    Once Baldwin had secured his position at home, he attacked the coastal towns of Arsuf and Caesarea in 1101. He captured Acre in 1104 and Beirut in 1110, after helping Bertrand (Count of Τοlouse) to capture Tripoli in 1109. With the assistance of Genoese and Venetian fleets, he captured Sidon in 1111, but all his attempts to conquer Ascalon and Tyre failed.

    In 1115, he built the castle of Krak de Montreal to protect the Kingdom to the South, which allowed him to control the caravan routes between Egypt and Syria. This meant that he could govern trade and potential attacks on pilgrims and marching armies. Baldwin fought three battles against the Egyptians of the Fatimid Dynasty in 1101, 1102, and 1105 at Ramla. Ramla was a town between Jerusalem and Ascalon. After the third battle, the Egyptians did not threaten the Kingdom again during Baldwin’s reign.

    Baldwin died from a mortal wound in 1118 after he decided to launch an expedition against the Fatimids in order to further strengthen the States’ southern frontier.

    To an extent, Baldwin I’s huge expansion of the Crusader states’ territories was due to the fact that the Egyptian Fatimid Dynasty was in conflict with the Turkic Seljuk Dynasty. This prevented a coordinated response against the crusaders.

    Baldwin II

    Baldwin I was childless. As a result, his brother, Baldwin of Bourcq, was crowned King Baldwin II on 14 April 1118.

    Crusader States Baldwin II Image StudySmarterImage of Baldwin II of Jerusalem, Wikimedia Commons.

    Baldwin I’s campaigns against Egypt encouraged Al Afdal Shahanshah, leader of the Fatimids, to seek a pact with Damascus, so Baldwin II sent envoys to Toghtekin, leader of Damascus, to discourage him from accepting.

    Toghtekin demanded land from the Crusader states to remain neutral, which Baldwin II refused to give. Subsequently, Toghtekin attacked Galilee in 1118 whilst Al Afdal gathered his troops near Ascalon to launch an attack on the southern borders of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Baldwin II quickly travelled to the southern frontier fortified with troops from Antioch and Tripoli. After three months of fighting, the conflict ended in a truce.

    In 1119, Toghtekin attacked the northern frontiers, raiding Antioch and Edessa in May. Baldwin urged Roger of Salerno (ruler of Antioch) to wait for him before they counter-attacked, but he did not. Roger’s army marched on their own but they were encircled on the plains of Sarmada on 28 June 1119 and suffered a terrible defeat in the battle of the Field of Blood.

    Roger of Salerno lost his life along with hundreds of his soldiers, leaving Antioch essentially defenceless until Baldwin’s arrival. Baldwin II arrived in Antioch in July and clashed with the Muslim armies in the Battle of Hab on 14 August. Though not definitively successful, he did manage to prevent them from taking over Antioch and Edessa.

    The Knights Templar and Hospitaller

    The constant conflict with the Muslim tribes in the Middle East posed a threat to the survival of the Crusader states and the pilgrims travelling around the Holy Land. To address this problem, the French Knight Hugues de Payens suggested to King Baldwin II to form an order of warrior monks to protect the Crusader states under the justification of fighting God’s enemies. This idea was formally discussed in January 1120 in the Council of Nablus after which the Orders of the Knights Templar and Hospitaller were formed.

    The Order of the Knights Templar was officially recognised in 1129 and the Order of the Knights Hospitaller in 1113. Their main difference was that the Knights Templar primarily fought against the Muslim tribes, whereas the Knights Hospitaller cared for the injured.

    Although initially the two orders were very poor and relied on donations to survive, they quickly became economically important. The nobles who were interested in participating in the Crusades often gave their wealth to the Knights Templar. Their wealth was then under Templar management, something that generated wealth for the Order very quickly. As a result, from 1150 the Order began issuing letters of credit to pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem. The pilgrims would give their money to the Order and receive a document that indicated the value of their money corresponding to the treasure they could get from Jerusalem.

    In 1139 Pope Innocent II issued the papal bull Omne Datum Optimum, which allowed the Templars to pass through all borders freely. Additionally, they did not have to pay taxes and were not subject to any authority other than that of the Pope. This made them incredibly powerful and they continued to exist after the Crusader states dissolved in 1291.

    The coins of the Crusader States

    Before becoming Crusader states, the four counties had their own money. However, once they became part of Outremer, the rulers there started to implement their own coinage. Most of the coins were made of copper and gold and had symbols related to the holy land or the promised land, like crosses or sepulchres. Some survive still today.

    Crusader States Coins of the Crusader States StudySmarterTwo Crusader gold coins. Source: PHGCOM, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons.

    Decline and fall of the Crusader states

    The decline and fall of the Crusader states was largely due to child rulers being put to the throne, which led to in-fighting and civil war.

    Division of the states

    In 1256, a rivalry between Venice (supported by the Knights Hospitaller) and Genoa (supported by the Knights Templar) for control of Jerusalem led to a civil war known as the War of Saint Sabas. The war lasted until 1270 and greatly disempowered the Crusader states. This left them divided and open to attack by the much more united Muslim dynasties.

    Later, in 1268, the King of Jerusalem, Conradin, was killed by the Sicilian King, Charles I of Anjou, after the Battle of Tagliacozzo. Conradin had attacked Italy and tried to depose Charles. This led to more in-fighting over succession in the Crusader states. The barons preferred Hugh III of Cyprus whilst Maria of Antioch preferred Charles I of Anjou. That is why in 1277, she sent Roger of San Severino to block Hugh III’s access to the Crusader states, essentially leaving them without a resident monarch.

    The continuous in-fighting allowed the Mamluks to attack successfully. In 1289, the Mamluk Sultan Al-Mansur Qalawun invaded and destroyed Genoese-held Tripoli, killing and enslaving the residents. Al-Mansur had agreed on a truce with Jerusalem, but the crusaders killed some Muslim traders in Acre in 1290 thus breaking the truce. This led to a Mamluk siege of Jerusalem in 1291 forcing all who could to flee to Cyprus. The rest were either slaughtered or sold to slavery. Without any support from the surrounding kingdoms, the Crusader states were annihilated as it was Mamluk's policy to destroy all traces of them.

    Crusader states - Key takeaways

    • The Crusader states were four territories in the Middle East established after the crusaders’ victory in the First Crusade.
    • The Crusader states were the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the County of Edessa, the County of Tripoli, and the Principality of Antioch.
    • The Crusader states were significantly expanded during Baldwin I’s reign. Baldwin II set up the Orders of the Knights Templar and Hospitaller after the Council of Nablus in 1120.
    • The Crusader states declined due to internal divisions as opposed to the unity of the Muslim dynasties, which allowed them to successfully attack the territories.
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Crusader states

    What were the Crusader states?

    The Crusader states were overseas territories in the Middle East Controlled by the Catholic Church.

    Why did the Crusader states get that name?

    They got their name because they were conquered during the Crusades.

    What were the four Crusader states?

    The County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and the Count you Tripoli.

    When did the last Crusader state fall?

    The Kingdom of Jerusalem was the last to fall in 1291.

    What language did Crusaders speak?

    The crusaders mainly came from France and thus spoke French.

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