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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantium and the Crusades

Policies of Manuel I and the Second Crusade 


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The Second Crusade. After the First Crusade the Christian rulers in the east, that is to say, the Byzantine Emperor and the Latin rulers of Antioch, Edessa, and Tripoli, as well as the king of Jerusalem, instead of endeavoring to crush with united forces the strength of the Muslims, were occupied with their internal dissensions and looked with distrust on the political strengthening of their neighbors. Particularly disastrous to the general welfare were the hostile relations of Byzantium to Antioch and Edessa. These conditions enabled the Muslims, who had been weakened and driven back by the forces of the First Crusade, to recover themselves and again threaten from Mesopotamia the Christian possessions.

In 1144 Zangi, one of the Muhammedan rulers or Atabegs of Mosul, as the Seljuq governors who had become independent, were called, suddenly seized Edessa. An anonymous Syriac chronicle recently translated into French affords a detailed account of the siege and capture of Edessa by Zangi. The latter, as the chronicler said, left Edessa four days after the capture of the city. The inhabitants of Edessa went to redeem their captives, and the city was repopulated. The governor Zain-ed-Din, who was a good-natured man, treated them very well. But after Zangi's death in 1146 the former count of Edessa, Joscelin, retook the city. Zangi's son Nur-ad-Din easily took possession of it, and then the Christians were massacred, the women and children were sold into slavery, and the city was almost entirely destroyed. It was a heavy blow to the Christian cause in the east, because the county of Edessa, because of its geographical position, was a buffer state of the crusaders which had to receive the first attacks of Muslim assaults. Neither Jerusalem nor Antioch nor Tripoli could help the prince of Edessa. Meanwhile, after the fall of Edessa, the Latin possessions, Antioch in particular, began to be seriously threatened.

The fall of Edessa produced a deep impression upon the west and evoked renewed interest in the cause of the Holy Land. But the pope of that time, Eugenius III, could not initiate or promote a new crusading enterprise, because the democratic movement which had broken out in the fifth decade at Rome and in which the famous Arnold of Brescia had taken part rendered the pope's position in the eternal City unstable, and even forced him to leave Rome for a time. The king of France, Louis VII, seems to have been the real initiator of the crusade, and its preacher who carried the idea into effect was the monk Bernard of Clairvaux, who by his fiery appeals first won over France. Then he passed to Germany and persuaded Conrad III to take the cross and inspired the Germans to take part in the expedition. But the western peoples, who had learned caution through the bitter experience of the First Crusade and had been greatly disappointed in its results, did not manifest their former enthusiasm, and at the meeting of Vezelay, in Burgundy, the French feudaries were against the crusade. Not without difficulty Bernard won them over by his passionate and persuasive eloquence. In Bernard's conception the original plan of Louis VII widened. Owing to Bernard, simultaneously with the crusade to the East there were organized two other expeditions: the first against the Muslims who at that time were in possession of Lisbon in the Pyrenean peninsula, the other against the pagan Slavs in the north, on the Elbe (Laba) river.

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