The Greatest Massacre all in the Name of God: the Sharp Holy Wars

It all started on November 27th, 1095. Pope Urban II stood at the council of Clermont and delivered a powerful speech that instilled the people of medieval Europe with the spirit of God himself. A speech so moving that it convinced people to murder, reclaim the Holy Land so that all of their sin would be forgiven, But, was the speech really his? Sure, Pope Urban II delivered the speech on one of the biggest platforms of the time. But did he actually write it? Or did he just recite it? Well, there are several theories that suggest it wasn’t actually his. But first let’s take it back to just a little before Pope Urban delivered his powerful and moving speech. A smaller man, a preacher with monk haircut and a brown robe riding atop a donkey into France.

This man would give the most absolutely stunning and moving sermons the european people had ever seen. The people of everywhere he went loved and adored him. They would try to touch him, grab chunks of his hair, and if they could not, they’d go for his mule instead. This man was named Peter, or those who knew him called him Peter the Hermit. This was accurate, he was in fact a Hermit. He never married, and had no children. Most of his life was spent away from civilization, reading his devotions and practicing his relationship with God. Growing closer to Him. During his sermons and preachings, Peter become so passionate that at most sermons he would nearly always weep. He’d wave a pictures of Jesus and a cross after all his sermons and break down crying.

Though as passionate as he was, his sermons brought in little money, he wouldn’t take it. Peter was very poor, as most people were in that time. Though in poverty, Peter was extremely sharp, understanding and very intelligent. Peter has hardly seen eating anything other than bread or wine, that seemed to be the meal of choice for most ancient philosophers. Now, back to Pope Urban’s speech. It sounded eerily similar to a sermon Peter the Hermit delivered in the area, only days prior. We cannot confirm or deny whether or not the Pope (or one of his advisors) blatantly plagiarized one of Peter’s sermons, but Author and historian Daniel A. Goodsell say that they are too similar for it to be a coincidence. Even if the Pope’s speech was stolen from Peter, that speech still lit a fire under the Christians of early Europe. Peter was actually at the sermon as Pope Urban gave his speech. Peter then took it upon himself to deliver sermon after sermon, teaching after teaching. Peter took it under his sole responsibility to gather the people for the crusades, and that he did.

He gathered nearly 80 thousand followers. These followers were so devoted to him they would die for him. And… that they did.The Pope saw Peter’s sermons and made him leader of the People’s crusade. Peter would be leading them into battle. Now remember, Peter was merely a priest, an excellent one at that but he was no military commander, and had no prior military experience. Infact, Peter was a poor military commander when tested during the Crusades. He lost nearly half his men in some of the first battles of the first crusade. Eventually he’d lose most his men and be relieved of his military duty after the battle at Nicea. During the crusades, and probably most of his life. He wore the exact same robe and sandals everyday, only washing it occasionally. Peter claimed to have visions where God came to him. Peter said that God told him to do everything he could to help ensure the Crusade would happen.

Before the Crusade began, he said that God spoke to him of how the muslims were torturing and beating the Christians. There are a few accounts of followers saying that he even went crazy while preaching during the Crusade. Now, if he did or not we don’t really have anyway to tell if he did actually go crazy. During my research I read that he could’ve been crazy for most of his life. Imagine, in this day and age if someone was preaching and teaching about murdering of an entire race or country of people because of their religion, they’d be called a radicalist or be called crazy. But that’s just what the people believed back then. They believed if you murdered and got revenge on those who took Jerusalem that it would forgive you of all sin. Let me put this into a little bit of a different perspective. So, on one hand you have a very passionate, very religious person that blames a race for something that happened or what they thought would happen and so they set out to murder them, take them prisoner.

On the other hand you have a very passionate, very religious person that blames a race for something that happened or what they thought would happen and so they set out to murder them, take them prisoner, but this person is in a position of absolute power. The first person I’m describing is Peter the Hermit. The second person I’m describing is Adolf Hitler. Later on during this presentation you may detect very similar things between the Crusades, and the Holocaust. And their motivations. And the truth is, there are similar things between the two. Yes, Adolf Hitler was responsible for the murder of 6 million Jews and Peter is not the sole culprit of the murder of 1.7 million people during the first crusade but Peter was so involved and so… I hesitate to say a follower because he was more of a leader but he was so convinced that what he was doing was the right thing. Now, He did not kill 1.7 million people all himself, and neither did Hitler.

But they both thought what they were doing was all for God and all totally correct without a second thought. Now, let me be clear, I’m not saying that Peter the Hermit is Hitler and I’m not saying that Hitler is Peter the hermit, but there are undeniable similarities. In order to properly understand Peter’s role in the first Crusade, I must explain to you what the Crusade was all about. During this time Pope Urban was good friends with the Byzantine Empire. The muslims who had recently taken Jerusalem, and had been in a time of peace for quite some time but were just now beginning to threaten the Byzantines. The Byzantines then asked Pope Urban for help, but the Pope couldn’t just start a war with no cause, he needed a reason for the people to get behind him and that is when the idea of the first Crusade was thought of. Pope Urban told the people of how Christians were being persecuted and how God would relieve them of all sin if they retook the Holy Land.

If they failed, God would punish them. The people believed the Pope, but it was Peter who rallied the common people for this seemingly noble cause. This was a crucial part, because up until now Pope Urban wasn’t hated by the people, but he wasn’t loved either. Peter rallied the people to not only be for this ideal of the Crusade, but for Pope Urban as well. The First Crusade. How it began, like I said earlier, the Pope didn’t really care who occupied the holy land, he started the Crusade for purely political reasons, to help the Byzantines. When the Crusade initially started, Germans began murdering the Jews, not the Muslims, they kind of had their own Crusade. Preachers and Bishop of all Europe protested this, they would take in refugees. Sound familiar?

The Germans decided that the local Jews were easier and closer to kill than the Muslims, but still did so for the same reason as the French did. The church even hired a militia to protect the Jews. The Crusade was separated into 5 different armies, not just one. Each had their own leader and a sixth army formed of unequipped peasants led by Peter the Hermit. Peter’s army went through Hungary with relative ease until a fight broke out and they left Hungary, they now needed to cross the Byzantines borders. Peter was not aware of the underlying intentions of the Crusade so he attacked who they were supposed to help. He attacked the Byzantines. Eventually, after starvation set in on their journey, Peter lost control of his men, his army turned into a childish mob and attacked the hungarians again. What few men he had left he led to jerusalem. Peter’s army was broken and split in two, both trying to see who could spit the furthest.

They went through Nicomedia and pillage and stole supplies, even though the people of Nicomedia were Christians. Peter’s men ran out of water and food quickly, they had to resort to drinking their own donkeys blood and their own urine. The other 5 armies all faced this same issue… famine. One army surrendered to the Turkish people. The Turks demanded that they convert to islam or die. Many of the men did not abandon their faith and were executed. Then, another army of the Crusades came and they were not so quick to surrender, they were going to attack and loot the Turkish capital but the Turks knew this and the second army walked right into a trap, a hail storm of arrows rained down upon them. Now only 3,000 of the 40,000 that came from western europe remained. They held up in an old nearby castle until the Byzantines came to rescue them.

The original plan was for the five armies to meet up at Constantinople after beginning from five different starting points. One of the armies traveled by water and lost most of his men to a massive storm. Peter and his army first arrived at Nicea. Peter’s army was so weak and dismembered that he lost this battle immediately and convinced the Turkish leader that the Crusade was no longer worth worrying about. Peter was then relieved of his command. Not much is known about Peter after this other then he left and abandon the crusade. The Massacre. By the time they got to Jerselelum, they had hardly many men left, they were beaten, battered, starved, and blood thirsty. This was it, the moment they had waited for since Pope Urban II delivered his speech at the Clermont Council 3 years ago. What they were about to do, the horrors that came next would have an effect for that land for the rest of history.

Looking back, we can obviously say that what happened was awful, and very un holy. They believed so passionately, especially those who survived. Some of the Leaders were still alive. Their names, Godfrey, Tankard and Robert. The 4th leader, Robert, would join them later. The 5th leader, Bohemond was holding down a city that they had captured earlier on in their journey. Their army was small now. They stood on the brink of achieving their goal. The citizens had poisoned the nearby wells, their armies could not safely drink. They bombarded the gates, slaughtering everyone. Soldiers, peasants, women, children. Blood literally flooded the streets. It was almost up to their ankles. Heads and limbs, lined the streets. Blood rivers.

The people of jerusalem were butchered. The people that survived the initial attacked fled to the cathedral. The crusaders pursued. This campaign of murder lasted two entire days. Sunset, july 15th, 1099 were covered in their enemies blood gathered in the church. It was believed to be the sight of Christ’s death and resurrection. They then prayed. This was the First Crusade. The rest of the Crusades. I’ll briefly touch on most of them, to give you an understanding. The second Crusade was… pretty undesirable for the Crusaders. The Muslums eventually retook the holy land so the crusaders set out again but this time from the Holy Roman Empire. They made no ground and only won one battle.

They really got their buts handed to them in Damascus. The Third Crusade. This time the Curds/Egypt. Their leader was Saladin. He took Damascus and then the Holy Land. He was an astounding general. This caused Pope Gregory to call for a third crusade. King Philip, King Richard and King Fredrick all responded. But because Saladin was Egyptian, that was a target and so no crusaders would join them because it had 0 religious value to them and was again another failure. The Fourth Crusade. 35k signed up for this crusade. They were going to get their by boat. This caused the greatest naval army since the Roman Empire. They got to venice and only 11k survived. The people of Venice offered to help them get to antioch if they would capture Zara.

The pope then excommunicated them and the people of Venice because they tried to take Zara. Zara was a Christian city. They failed to take Zara. The new Byzantine emperor promised to paid the Crusaders if he helped him. They did and went to Constantinople where the emperor was. The emperor did not have the money he promised so the excommunicated crusaders took down Constantinople. Children’s Crusade. This happened in 1212, after the fourth. 50 thousand children attempted to ban the Muslims. Their leader, Stephen thought that because he was a child God would protected. They all marched to the south shore of France. Most of them died on this march or were captured and sold into slavery. This crusade had little to no impact on getting rid of the Muslims.

The rest of the Crusades were either led by the Holy Roman Empire of France. All of them had little impact and were started because the Muslims had retaken the Holy Land. The only truly successful Crusade was the first one, no others had taken back the holy land and suffered the loss of many soldiers because of it. Some were even complete failures. Knights Templar. Knights Templar were a big part of the Crusades. They were the protectors of the pilgrims and then made into soldiers. They were very wealthy. Even at one point owned everything in the Holy Land after being created after the first crusade. They owned the ENTIRE island of cyprus. They were very rich, but when first created they were called the “poor fellow soldiers of christ.” They enjoyed quite a few perks, they were basically above all law except for the Popes. They didn’t have to pay taxes or obey laws. But with all these perks, they were never allowed to surrender. First to enter battle, the last to leave. So, the Holy Wars. Holy or Sinful?

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The greatest massacre all in the name of god: the sharp holy wars. (2022, Jun 30). Retrieved August 10, 2022 , from

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