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Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantium and the Crusades

The First Crusade and Byzantium 

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The epoch of the crusades is one of the most important in the history of the world, especially from the point of view of economic history and general culture. For a long time the religious problem pushed into the background the other sides of this complicated and manifold movement. The first country to realize the full importance of the crusades was France, where in 1806 the French Academy and then the National Institute offered a prize for the best work which had for its purpose: To examine the influence of the Crusades upon the civil liberty of the peoples of Europe, their civilization, and the progress of knowledge, commerce, and industry. Of course, at the beginning of the nineteenth century it was premature to discuss thoroughly such a problem; it has not even yet been solved. But it is worth pointing out that the epoch of the crusades ceased to be discussed exclusively from the narrower standpoint of the religious movements of the Middle Ages. Two volumes were crowned in 1808 by the French Academy: one book by a German, A. Heeren, which was published at the same time in German and French under the title An Essay on the Influence of the Crusades Upon Europe; the other book, the work of the Frenchman M. Choiseul Daillecourt, Upon the Influence of the Crusades on the State of the European Peoples. Though both these studies are now out of date, they do not lack interest, especially the first.

Of course, the crusades are the most important epoch in the history of the struggle of the two world religions, Christianity and Islam, the struggle which has been carried on from the seventh century. But in this process not only religious idealistic motives were involved. Even in the First Crusade, which reflected most plainly the ideals of the crusade movement to deliver the Holy Land from the hands of the infidel, secular objects and earthly interests were already evident. There were two parties among the crusaders, that of the religious-minded, and that of the politicians. Citing these words of the German scholar Kugler, the French historian, Chalandon, added: This statement of Kugler's is absolutely true. But the more closely scholars examine internal conditions of the life of western Europe in the eleventh century, especially the economic development of the Italian cities at that time, the more they are convinced that economic phenomena also played a very significant part in the preparation and carrying out of the First Crusade. With every new crusade the secular side was felt more and more strongly; finally, during the Fourth Crusade, this secular standpoint gained a definite victory over the primitive idea of the movement, as the taking of Constantinople and the foundation of the Latin Empire by the crusaders in 1204 demonstrated.

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