Second Crusade

The Crusades were a series of medieval military expeditions by Christian Europeans to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. They started in the eleventh century, lasted until the thirteenth century, and were filled with claims of betrayal, defeats, conspiracies, and promises of salvation. But, what happened specifically on the Second Crusade? What were its motives? How successful was it? Let’s explore it in detail. 

Second Crusade Second Crusade

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Table of contents

    What were the reasons for the Second Crusade?

    The catalyst for the Second Crusade was the fall of Edessa. The county of Edessa was founded by the Franks in 1098, towards the end of the First Crusade. It was one of four feudal states called the Crusader States, or outremer, after the French word ‘outre-mer’, meaning overseas.

    Imad ad-Din Zangi, the ruler of Mosul, Aleppo, and Edessa, attacked the city on 24 December 1144 and captured it. Most Western Christians were killed or sold into slavery, however, Eastern Christians were left alone. The loss of Edessa and the killing and enslaving of the Western Christians demanded a response. Pleas for aid were sent to Europe.

    Feudal states

    A social and political system where landholders provide land to tenants in exchange for their loyalty and services.

    The Papal bull

    The loss of Edessa came as a shock to Eastern and Western Christians and their pleas for help soon reached Europe in 1145. Bishop Hugh of Jabala reported this news to Pope Eugene III, who, in turn, decreed a papal bull. The Quantum Praedecessores (meaning How Much Our Predecessors) were issued on 1 December of that same year calling for a Second Crusade.

    Second Crusade Pope Eugene III StudySmarterFig 1 - Pope Eugene III

    Pope Eugene III and abbot Bernard of Clairvaux made the Second Crusade more appealing by:

    • Promising Christians who joined a remission of their sins, whether they lived or died.

    • Promising that their properties and families would be protected while they were away.

    • Cancelling or suspending interests on loans.

    • Exclaiming that this was not just an act of charity or war, but also as a means of redemption and salvation.

    Second Crusade Bernard of Clairvaux preaching the Second Crusade in Vézelay, France, in 1146 StudySmarterFig. 2 - Bernard de Clairvaux preaching the Second Crusade in Vézelay, France, in 1146

    Which forces were involved in the Second Crusade?

    As you know by now, the Crusades were fought between Christian and Muslim armies. But each of those armies was made up of different groups of people.

    The Christian forces

    The Second Crusade was led by two of Europe’s greatest rulers, a first in crusader history:

    1. Conrad III, King of Germany.

    2. Louis VII, King of France.

    The German force consisted of approximately 20,000 knights and soldiers, who preferred to fight on foot. The French force consisted of approximately 15,000 knights and soldiers and they preferred to fight on horseback (known as the cavalry).¹

    Not everybody joined this crusade. King Steven of Blois, from England, was dealing with conflicts in his kingdom, while King David I of Scotland was discouraged from participating by his subjects.

    The Muslim forces

    The Muslim forces were led by Sultan Nur ad-Din and his older brother Saif ad-Din Ghazi I.

    The Muslim states had professional soldiers, usually ethnic Turks, who were well-trained and well-equipped. In the event of war, the ahdath militias, usually ethnic Arabs, were called in as reinforcements to increase the military numbers. The latter was not as well trained as the former, but what they lacked in training, they made up with strong religious motivation.

    Ahdath

    Local militias or irregular police in Syria from the tenth to the twelfth century.

    Further support came from Turkmen and the Kurdish auxiliary. Even though these auxiliaries were called upon during war, they tended to lack discipline.

    Second Crusade Depiction of Nur ad-Din StudySmarterFig. 3 - Depiction of Sultan Sultan Nur ad-Din

    Which routes did the armies take during the Second Crusade?

    The German and French troops took different routes to Jerusalem.

    The German route

    The German troops travelled overland. They were joined by Ottokar III in Vienna and they travelled through Hungary without issues. After losing some German troops to a flood, they reached Constantinople on 10 September 1147. The relationship with Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos was tense and he feared attacks from the crusaders. The Germans were violent against the local population which resulted in the Battle of Constantinople in September 1147, where the German troops were defeated.

    Eventually, King Conrad III and his troops marched onwards to Anatolia and when they arrived Conrad III split his force into two divisions:

    1. Conrad III took the best knights and troops overland.

    2. Otto I took the rest via the coastal route.

    Conrad III’s division was caught in a series of battles at Dorylaeum and the Seljuq Turks destroyed most of the division on 25 October 1147, also injuring Conrad III.

    Otto I’s division marched south to the Mediterranean coast and was defeated in battle in early 1148. The force ran out of food while crossing the inhospitable countryside, and then they were ambushed and defeated by the Seljuq Turks near Laodicea on the Lycus on 16 November 1147. The troops were killed in battle, captured, or sold into slavery.

    Second Crusade Manuel I Komnenos StudySmarterFig. 4 - Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos

    The French route

    The French crusaders, led by King Louis VII, departed from Metz (northeast France) in June 1147. The majority went overland, however, a force from Provence waited until August to take a sea route. At Worms (Germany) Louis VII’s forces joined with the crusaders from Normandy and England and they followed Conrad III’s route. After a minor conflict between Louis VII and Géza of Hungary, the troops continued their journey into the Byzantine Empire to Constantinople.

    In Lopadion (northwest Turkey), the French met what was left of Conrad III’s army and together they followed the coastal route that Otto I took. Conrad III fell ill and returned to Constantinople, but Louis VII, very much ignoring Turkish threats of attack, moved on, taking the German troops with him. The Turks did attack on 24 December 1147, however, the French and Germans were victorious.

    In January 1148, the troops reached Laodicea just after Otto I’s army was destroyed. Some French troops were separated at Mount Cadmus on 6 January 1148, where Louis VII and his troops suffered heavy losses from attacks by the Turks. No longer wanting to continue by land, Louis VII decided to sail to Antioch but they were delayed for a month due to bad storms. The few ships that arrived were claimed by Louis VII and his associates and he sent the rest of the troops overland. Louis VII eventually arrived in Antioch on 19 March 1148, but by this time, attacks from the Turks and illnesses had thinned out the army.

    What happened after the Crusaders arrived in Jerusalem?

    When the crusaders arrived in Acre (present-day Israel) they were welcomed with open arms by the nobility of Jerusalem. On 24 June 1148, the High Court of Jerusalem met with the crusaders and discussed what should happen next.

    It was decided that they should attack Damascus, a former ally of the Kingdom of Jerusalem who switched its allegiance to the Zengids. Damascus was the most powerful Muslim state in southern Syria, so it would be best if the Christians would hold the city, which would strengthen their position to resist the rising power of Nur ad-Din. The council believed that it would only be a matter of time before Nur ad-Din would try and take Damascus himself and they wanted to beat him to it. In July, an estimated 50,000 troops assembled and marched to Damascus.

    Siege of Damascus

    The crusaders attacked Damascus from the west where the orchards would provide them with a constant food supply. They arrived in Darayya, a suburb of Damascus, on 23 July 1148. The Muslims, led by Saif ad-Din Ghazi I and Nur ad-Din, were constantly attacking the crusaders, pushing them back in the orchards where they were exposed. On 27 July, the crusaders moved to a field that was less fortified but also had less water and food available. When Nur ad-Din arrived at the same field it now became impossible for the crusaders to return to their better position. Local crusaders refused to carry on and the city was abandoned. Conrad III’s army was the first to retreat, the rest followed on 28 July. It was, however, not a smooth retreat as they were followed and harassed by Turkish archers on their way back to Jerusalem.

    Second Crusade Siege of Damascus by the Crusaders, 1148 StudySmarterFig. 6 - Siege of Damascus by the Crusaders, 1148

    What was the result of the Second Crusade?

    The badly executed campaigns, resulting in heavy loss of life and no gain in the Holy Land, meant that the Second Crusade was a failure. The Christian forces all felt betrayed by the others. Conrad III’s image was not exactly boosted by the failure of the Crusade. Louis VII’s image, on the other hand, was boosted, with many of the French seeing him as a pilgrim who bore God’s punishment.

    The relationship between the Byzantine Empire and the French was damaged as well, with Louis VII and other French leaders openly accusing Emperor Manuel I Komnenos of plotting with the Turkish attackers during the march across Anatolia.

    Related European crusades

    Besides the Second Crusade to the Holy Land, two other crusades were happening simultaneously in Europe.

    The Wendish Crusade

    When the Second Crusade was announced, the north German Saxons were reluctant. They were more eager to launch a campaign against the Polabian Slavs, known as Wends, who were considered pagans. Pope Eugene III agreed and issued another papal bull, known as the Divina dispensation, on 13 April 1147. This bull stated that those participating in the Wendish Crusade would have the same spiritual rewards as those going off to the Holy Land.

    Polabian Slavs

    A collective term to describe West Slavic tribes who lived along the Elbe river (eastern Germany).

    The goal of this crusade was to convert the pagan Wends to Christianity, although this failed. Some pagans did convert but went back to their own beliefs once the Christian armies left. That being said, this crusade was seen as a success because the Slavic population lost much of their methods of production. This would limit their resistance in the future, as the crusade lasted for the rest of the twelfth century.

    Pagans

    A term mostly used by the Catholic Church to describe non-Christian people.

    The Crusade against the Moors in Iberia

    Seeing as the sea route to the Holy Land would be faster than the land route, the group of crusaders in this region was put to good use and diverted to Iberia. Some 160 to 200 ships sailed for Lisbon to assist King Alfonso Henriques of Portugal to capture the city from the Muslims (known as Moors in Iberia). The siege began on 1 July 1147, and the crusaders were successful, with the city falling on 24 October 1147. Most of the crusaders who took part in the capture of Lisbon stayed behind and successfully continued the war against the Moors. This war is known as the Reconquista.

    While the crusade against the Moors was seen as a success of the Second Crusade, it was overshadowed by the failure of the crusaders in the East and the victory of the Muslims. This failure would ultimately have a key influence on the fall of Jerusalem which gave rise to the Third Crusade at the end of the twelfth century.

    Second Crusade - Key takeaways

    • The County of Edessa fell into Muslim hands on 24 December 1144.

    • The fall of Edessa was the key catalyst for starting the Second Crusade, which lasted from 1147 to 1149.

    • A papal bull was issued on 1 December 1145 calling for the Second Crusade.

    • King Conrad III of Germany and King Louis VII of France personally led the crusader forces.

    • Both the German and the French forces sustained heavy losses during several attacks and illnesses while on route to Jerusalem.

    • During the Council of Acre, it was determined to attack Damascus. The crusaders lost this battle.

    • Due to badly executed campaigns and heavy loss of lives, the Second Crusade was deemed a failure.

    • The Wendish Crusade against the pagan Slavs was seen as a success but only because the Slavic population limited their resistance after losing their production methods.

    • A crusade against the Moors in Iberia was planned because this particular crusader force had to wait before making the journey to Jerusalem by sea.

    • The crusader force in Iberia was successful in helping King Alfonso Henriques of Portugal to capture the city of Lisbon.

    • The failure of the Second Crusade would ultimately have a key influence in the fall of Jerusalem, giving rise to the Third Crusade at the end of the twelfth century


    References

    1. David Nicolle. The Second Crusade 1148: Disaster outside Damascus, 2009.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Second Crusade

    When was the Second Crusade?

    The Second Crusade was from 1147 to 1149.

    How did the Second Crusade end?

    It ended with the defeat of the crusaders in the East.

    Who was involved in the Second Crusade?

    The main forces and people involved were:

    • Christian forces led by kings Conrad III and Louis VII.

    • Muslim forces led by Nur ad-Din and Saif ad-Din Ghazi I.

    Why did the Second Crusade fail?

    The Second Crusade failed due to badly executed campaigns and heavy losses in the forces due to attacks and illnesses.

    Who won the Second Crusade?

    The Muslims won the Second Crusade.

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