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The Spanish completed their Reconquista in 1492, defeating the Muslim kingdom of Granada and finally recovering the peninsula which the Muslims had first seized in 711. The long centuries of crusading profoundly colored the Spanish psyche, however, and explain much of the activities of early modern Spain. It is interesting to note that Christopher Columbus explored in part to find a new route to Jerusalem, and also in part to acquire wealth that would enable the Catholic Kings of Spain to carry their Reconquista across North Africa and towards Jerusalem. Other conquistadors were apparently motivated by similar concerns, and the Spanish Armada, sent against Protestant England in 1588, had many of the legal aspects of a crusade.
Crusades were still being called as recently as 1683, when the Polish King Jan Sobieski led one to the rescue of Vienna, saving it from a deadly siege by the Muslim Ottoman Turks. After 1700, however, the threat from the Muslim world began to subside considerably, and as it subsided the last traces of organized crusading began to fade.
One might say that crusading finally ended in 1798, when Napoleon defeated the Hospitaller military order on Malta. One might even bring it up to 1945, when the last cruzado or crusade tax was officially abolished in the Roman Catholic diocese of Pueblo, Colorado.
As with all great human endeavors the crusades had their high points and their low points. T. S. Eliot said, "Among [them] were a few good men, Many who were evil, And most who were neither, Like all men in all places." Those who would defend them blindly, and those who would seek to apologize for them, are probably equally misguided. Certainly they were a reaction to centuries of assaults on Christendom by Arab and other Islamic forces; they were also the product of that same powerful, active, aggressive, curious, energetic approach which made Western Civilization the master of most of the globe by 1900.
Rather than viewing them as Good or as Evil, perhaps we ought to view them simply as Fact, and then derive what lessons or inspirations we can from them.
This article has presented a brief overview of the Crusades. Further articles will treat specific areas in much greater detail, and will be posted here as they become available.
Eliot, T. S. Collected Poems 1909-1962, San Diego, New York & London, 1984, p. 165, "Choruses from 'The Rock.'"
Hallam, Elizabeth. Chronicles of the Crusades, New York, 1989, p. 19.
- Military and Political Background
- The First Crusade
- Crusades and the Counter-Crusades
- The Later Crusades
- Additional Background
- Crusading Vows & Privileges