The Crusades: Spain and the Middle East

Although the church in western Europe had established its own identity and concerns by about 1100, it could not ignore developments elsewhere in the region. It was clear that Islamic military expansion posed a major threat to the church throughout the southern flank of Europe, but especially in southern Spain, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, Sicily, and the Balkans (2.1.3). The origins of the Crusades lie in requests for military assistance during the eleventh century in stemming – or even reversing – Islamic territorial gains.


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Although most historians accept that these military campaigns of the Middle Ages were primarily concerned with recapturing territory in various parts of southern Europe invaded by Islamic forces in earlier centuries, the term “Crusade” is often used specifically to des- ignate a series of military campaigns over an extended period of time in the Balkans and the Middle East. Given the symbolic importance of Jerusalem to the Christian church, it was seen as axiomatic that Christians should be allowed access to the Holy Land. The destruction of the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in October 1009 by Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah caused considerable resentment (it was later rebuilt). Reports of violence against Christian pilgrims to the region caused concern in western Europe, and created a context sympathetic to military intervention.

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