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Pope Urban’s Call for Crusade

For most of the medieval times, the lands of Europe Christianity, and Islam in the Middle East and Africa had been divided. At the border of these two religions was the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire which served as the bulwark of Europe.

For the longest time, this empire had checked the advances of the Islamic caliphates. By the late 11th century though, the Byzantines had lost most of their strength. With most of their Anatolian (modern-day Turkey) territories lost, it seemed only a matter of time before the empire collapsed.

That is why in 1095, Emperor Alexios of the Byzantine Empire sent messengers to Poper Urban II in Rome, requesting aid from the rest of Europe to shore up his empire. His initial request was simply for a force of mercenaries to be sent to strengthen his military. What followed was a seismic shift in Europe that neither Urban nor Alexios could have predicted.

In response to these requests, Pope Urban II summoned various church leaders into the Council of Claremont to inform the rest of Christendom about this development. However, the message he gave had changed from Alexios’s request. Instead of a call to arms to join the Byzantine Empire, Urban called for a holy war against Islam itself to liberate Jerusalem from the Seljuk Empire.

The response was powerful as thousands of people, from the lowliest peasants to the highest of princes answered the call in what would become the First Crusade. Numbering as many as 60,000 soldiers, peasants, and pilgrims, this army would march across Europe and into the Middle East and would establish the Crusader States in Jerusalem and its surrounding cities.

However, it wasn’t just religious zeal that motivated these people to take the cross. Pope Urban II promised those who would join this crusade indulgences, allowing those who fought in the Crusades to be forgiven for all their sins.

These words were immortalized in his famous quote.

“All who die by the way, whether by land or sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested.”

– Pope Urban II

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