Post-classical history

Second Crusade (1147-1149)

A crusade launched in response to the capture of the Christian city of Edessa (mod. Şanlıurfa, Turkey) by the Muslims in 1144. Ultimately the campaign in the Levant failed, but by then it was only one part of a much wider offensive against the enemies of Christendom that came to encompass the Iberian Peninsula as well as the pagan lands to the east of the river Elbe. For this reason at least, the Second Crusade holds an important place in the history of the crusades.

Origins, Preaching, and Recruitment

On 24 December 1144 ‘Imād al-Dīn Zangī, the Muslim ruler of Aleppo and Mosul, captured the city of Edessa in Upper Mesopotamia. The news of this disaster quickly reached the rulers of Antioch and Jerusalem, and messengers were dispatched to western Europe to plead for help. The loss of the principal city of one of the four Frankish states in Outremer was the greatest calamity yet to affect the Latin East and provoked the largest expedition to the Holy Land since the First Crusade (1096-1099) almost fifty years previously.

The response of the West to the fall of Edessa was slow but, at least from the papal perspective, carefully planned. On 1 December 1145 Pope Eugenius III issued Quantum praedecessores, the first surviving papal encyclical to call for a crusade. This carefully researched document had three sections: an outline of recent events, an exhortation to take the cross, and an outline of the rewards and protection offered to crusaders by the church. The bull conveyed its message with clarity and emphasis and was designed to be easily understood when read out at large public gatherings. It relied strongly on the repetition of several key themes to reinforce its ideas. Eugenius laid great emphasis on linking the new campaign with the achievements of the First Crusade, and he urged potential recruits to live up to the deeds of their forefathers and to ensure that the present generation did not shame the memory of their predecessors. The offer of the remission of sins was repeated four times in the bull, which stated that those who died en route to the Holy Land were to be treated as martyrs and would find a place in heaven, thus allaying one worry of potential recruits.

Almost in parallel with the publication of this document, King Louis VII of France (1137-1180) announced plans to go to the East at his Christmas court at Bourges. However, Louis had experienced a difficult start to his reign, and there may well have been worries about disorder in his absence, particularly since he did not yet have a male heir. Prior to the Second Crusade no major European monarch had taken part in such an expedition, and in this sense the king’s proposal was a step into the unknown. It seems unlikely that Quantum praedecessores had reached northern France by this time, and the French clergy were probably unwilling to proceed without papal authorization. Louis’s plan was not declined outright, however, and it was agreed to postpone any formal commitments until a meeting at Vézelay at Easter 1146.

Second Crusade (1147-1149)

Second Crusade (1147-1149)

Troubles within the city of Rome caused Eugenius to delegate his former mentor, Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux, the foremost churchman of the age, to lead the preaching of the crusade. Bernard’s passionate oratory, combined with the persuasive message of Quantum praedecessores, inflamed the audience at Vézelay, and people rushed forward to be signed with the cross. Over the next few months Eugenius and Bernard sent out numerous churchmen to urge the people of western Europe to help their fellow Christians in the East. They also dispatched letters, some of which survive and reveal the powerful language used to convince people to act. Bernard described the people of the West as a lucky generation, blessed to be offered the opportunity of such splendid spiritual riches, and he almost guaranteed the crusaders success.

King Louis VII of France enters Constantinople during the Second Crusade, from Grandes Chroniques de France, Jean Fouquet (c. 1415/1420-1481). MS Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 6465 f.202. (Snark/Art Resource)

King Louis VII of France enters Constantinople during the Second Crusade, from Grandes Chroniques de France, Jean Fouquet (c. 1415/1420-1481). MS Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 6465 f.202. (Snark/Art Resource)

The abbot also embarked upon a grueling preaching tour between August 1146 and March 1147 that took him through Flanders and the Low Countries, down the Rhine to Basel and Lake Constance, then northward to the Christmas court of King Conrad III of Germany (1137-1152), and finally back into France. Miracles and wondrous portents accompanied the abbot of Clairvaux, and he undoubtedly did much to raise the profile of the campaign. Yet it is plain that he was approaching a highly receptive audience whose intense religiosity and devotion to the holy places had been fueled in the decades since the capture of Jerusalem by waves of pilgrimage and smaller crusading expeditions. The construction of churches as copies of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the emergence of the first military orders, with their growing landholdings across western Europe, were visible reminders of the land of Christ. As the stirrings of chivalric culture were felt among the knightly classes, the widespread memorialization of the deeds of the first crusaders in literature and song were constantly held out as an ideal for later generations to emulate.

As Bernard and his copreachers moved around Europe, a renegade Cistercian monk named Ralph attracted large crowds with his anti-Judaic preaching, urging people to destroy unbelievers at home. This message was coupled with the popular notion that the Jews’ money (much of it made from the sinful practice of usury) should be seized and used for the crusade. The church hierarchy, which was often responsible for protecting Jewish communities, invoked biblical testimony to forbid these outbreaks of disorder and directed that the Jews should not be killed lest their souls be lost forever. Nonetheless, Jewish communities in northern France and, especially, in the Rhineland were attacked. Bernard had to travel to Ralph in person to insist that he desist from his wickedness and return to his cloister. With the chief troublemaker removed, the problem largely ended.

In the autumn of 1146 the crusade began to broaden its appeal beyond the initial approach to the French nobility. As Bernard moved through the lands of Conrad of Germany, Eugenius dispatched the papal bull Divini dispensatione I to the people of northern Italy, another part of Conrad’s dominions. Bernard himself wrote to the people of Bavaria and eastern France encouraging them to take the cross but cautioned them to wait for proper leadership, rather than rushing eastward as the calamitous People’s Crusades of 1096 had done. Given the high level of interest in Germany and the need for a suitable leader, it was natural that the pope would want to build upon recent positive relations between the Curia and the German monarchy and enlist the support of Conrad, the most powerful ruler in Latin Christendom.

Conrad is said to have refused to take the cross at first and was supposedly shamed into participating in the crusade after an impassioned speech from Bernard of Clairvaux. The only source for this episode is the Vita of Saint Bernard, and this may be somewhat slanted in outlook. In reality, Conrad probably wished to defer an absolute commitment to the campaign until a series of bitter regional disputes that afflicted his lands had been settled. Bernard is known to have worked hard to make peace across Germany, and once this was achieved Conrad was able to enlist for the crusade and prepare to head the large numbers of his subjects who wished to fight for Christ.

As the crusade to the Holy Land gathered momentum, the period between the summer of 1146 and the summer of 1147 saw the scope of the holy war broaden considerably to include the Iberian Peninsula and the Slavic lands to the east of Germany. The stimulus for this came from secular rulers who wished to exploit the contemporary crusading fervor both to advance the frontiers of Christianity and to enlarge their own lands. Such an agenda fitted in with the confident and outward-looking spiritual agenda of Eugenius and Bernard, and they were prepared to endorse or support such campaigns.

The Crusade in Iberia

The first ruler to approach the church hierarchy was probably Afonso I Henriques, king of Portugal (1128-1185). For several years he had been trying to capture the city of Lisbon (Port. Lisboa) from the Muslims, and now he saw a chance to enlist the assistance of those northern European crusaders who planned to sail around Iberia en route to the Levant. Bernard of Clairvaux came into contact with some of the Flemings who eventually took part in this campaign, and he probably wrote a letter of support to the king. No formal agreement was drawn up, but it seems that the prospect of a siege at Lisbon was a compelling reason for a fleet of some 165 ships from the Rhineland, Flanders, and the Anglo-Norman realm to set out from Dartmouth in May 1147, several weeks before the primary land forces started their march to the East. There is no surviving crusade bull for this expedition, although the presence of a churchman bearing a piece of the True Cross and the observations of some contemporary writers indicate that it was regarded as a part of the broader crusading enterprise.

In preparation for the arrival of this force Afonso Hen- riques captured the strategically important town of San- tarém in March 1147. As the fleet reached northern Spain the king sent the bishop of Oporto to greet the crusaders and to convince them of both the spiritual value and the material advantage of fighting the enemies of Christ at Lisbon. A contract was agreed, and the siege began on 28 June. The crusaders and their allies made little progress at first, but, untroubled by Muslim relief forces and with plentiful supplies of food, they were able to persist. Assaults by siege towers and a mine were eventually sufficient to gain entry to the city, and Lisbon was taken on 24 October 1147. Most of the fleet chose to winter there before sailing on to the Holy Land in the spring to meet the main armies.

The conquest of Lisbon was not the only crusading activity in the Iberian Peninsula in 1147. Alfonso VII, king of Leôn and Castile, also sought to link an expansion of his lands to the holy war. He proposed an attack on the Andalusian port of Almeria, deep in the Muslim-held south. To secure the naval expertise of the Italian trading city of Genoa, he offered substantial commercial privileges, although given the intense religiosity of the age, the Italians must have been motivated by spiritual concerns as well. The siege lasted from August to October 1147, when Almeria fell to the crusaders. Alfonso’s grant to the Genoese demonstrates the combination of motives to good effect: the charter was given “because [the Genoese] captured the city for the honour of God and all of Christendom and the honour of Genoa” [J. B. Williams, “The Making of a Crusade”: pp. 38-39].

In April 1148 Eugenius III encouraged Alfonso in his (ultimately unsuccessful) attack on the southern Spanish town of Jaén. The previous year the pope had described the conflict in Iberia in the same context as those in the Holy Land, reflecting an ongoing parity between the two theaters of war that dated back to expeditions to the Balearic Islands and the Iberian Peninsula from 1113-1114, 1117-1118, and 1123. At the time of the Second Crusade, therefore, the large-scale campaign to the Levant prompted a dramatic increase in the level of crusading activity in the peninsula.

The Genoese were also contracted to help Raymond Berengar IV, count of Barcelona, conquer Tortosa in north-eastern Spain; once again they would receive considerable economic benefits in return, including one-third of the city, which fell to them on 30 December 1148. Almeria was recaptured by the Muslims in 1157, but Lisbon and Tortosa remained permanently in Christian hands and marked the two most important and long-lasting achievements of the entire Second Crusade.

The Crusade against the Wends

The third and final theater of war represented the most radical aspect of the crusade. As the Germans prepared for the expedition to the Levant, a group of Saxon nobles approached Bernard of Clairvaux at an assembly at Frankfurt am Main and asked for his blessing to fight the pagan Wendish (that is, Slavic) tribes on their borders. Like the crusades in Iberia, this was motivated by a mixture of religious and territorial expansionism. The Germans claimed that the inhabitants of the island of Rügen had converted to Christianity only to lapse back to paganism. The leading men of northern Germany and Denmark also wished to expand their dominions. Bernard agreed to the proposal, and Pope Eugenius formally endorsed the idea in his bull Divini dispensation II (April 1147), in which he confirmed that the conflict with the pagans would merit the same spiritual rewards as those in Iberia and the Holy Land. For decades the Saxons had fought against their pagan neighbors, but this was the first time that the struggle had been brought under the crusading banner. The behavior of the Rugians merited a severe response, and this may have been the reason behind Bernard’s infamous statement “We utterly forbid that for any reason whatsoever a truce should be made with these peoples, either for the sake of money, or for the sake of tribute, until such a time, as by God’s help they shall either be converted or wiped out” [Bernard of Clairvaux, Opera, ed. J. Leclercq and H. Rochais, 8 vols. (Roma: Editiones Cister- ciences, 1955-1977), 8:433].

In the summer of 1147 an army of Danes and Saxons attacked Dobin and Malchow. At the former settlement the defenders accepted baptism; at the latter a temple and idols were burned. The crusaders then turned toward the Christian city of Stettin (mod. Szczecin, Poland), but when the inhabitants hung crosses from the walls, the army withdrew, and the campaign broke up. The island of Rügenitself was not attacked. The campaign had secured the token submission of one chieftain and gained some tribute but had hardly swept aside the forces of the unbelievers, and once under way it appeared more intent on simply extending the power of secular lords, regardless of their opponents’ faith. Bitter arguments between two rivals for the Danish Crown and mistrust between the Saxons and the Danes also contributed to the mediocre outcome of this expedition.

The Crusade to the Levant

Through the autumn of 1146 and the spring of 1147 the crusaders of France and Germany gathered the money and equipment needed for the holy war. They decided to travel overland, a prospect that caused deep anxiety to the Byzantine emperor, Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180), and induced him to write to the pope asking him to guarantee the good behavior of the crusaders as they crossed Byzantine territory.

The Germans left first. As they neared Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey) their poor discipline did much to antagonize the Greeks, although Conrad and Manuel (who were related through Manuel’s wife, Bertha of Salzburg) remained on reasonable terms. Once they reached Constantinople, however, the Germans were swiftly ushered across the Bosporus and into Asia Minor.

In June 1147 Eugenius and Bernard presided over a great public ceremony at the abbey of Saint-Denis near Paris to mark the departure of King Louis. The French were more orderly in their approach to Constantinople, but serious tensions were generated by small-scale skirmishes with the Byzantines, coupled with a deeper antipathy based on doctrinal differences between the Orthodox and Latin churches, a recent Byzantine treaty with the Saljûq Turks, and Greek invasions of the principality of Antioch (ruled by Raymond of Poitiers, uncle of Queen Eleanor of France). One group of the crusaders advocated an immediate attack on Constantinople, but King Louis was not in favor of the idea. This hostility alarmed Manuel enormously, particularly because the Greeks’ bitterest rivals, the Sicilians, had chosen to exploit the passing of the crusade by invading the Peloponnese. The Sicilians and the French were known to be on friendly terms, and Manuel feared a joint assault on his city. He used the promise of better markets to persuade the French to cross the Bosporus, and with this barrier between himself and the Westerners he felt more secure.

Unknown to the French, the German army had not, as planned, waited for them. Conrad had hoped for a quick victory over the Saljûqs of Rûm, and this overconfidence, probably together with treachery by his Greek guides, meant that in late October 1147 his army marched into a trap. The German forces were largely destroyed after a few days’ march past Nicaea (mod. Iznik, Turkey), although King Conrad himself escaped to join Louis.

The French crusaders skirted southwest toward the coastline at Ephesos (mod. Efes, Turkey), and then, moving inland in late December, they won a resounding victory over the Turks in the valley of the Maeander (mod. Menderes). In January 1148, however, as they traversed Mount Kadmos (mod. Honaz Dagi), the French became stretched out, and the vanguard lost sight of the remainder of the force. The Turks immediately exploited this and launched a devastating attack on the crusaders, killing large numbers of men and horses and taking valuable equipment. In the crossing of Asia Minor, therefore, both the German and the French armies suffered serious damage in terms of men, materials, and morale.

In March 1148 Louis arrived in the city of Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey), where Prince Raymond fully expected him to fight to regain Edessa. This had been the original intention of the crusaders, and it would also, of course, secure Raymond’s own position against the Muslims of the region. Perhaps the recent imposition (1145) of Byzantine overlordship on Antioch, which meant that the crusaders’ efforts in the area would indirectly benefit the Greeks, caused the king to change his mind. Many in the French army blamed the Byzantines for their misfortunes; furthermore, rumors of an affair between Raymond and Eleanor hardly helped matters, and in early May Louis led his men southward to the kingdom of Jerusalem.

King Conrad had wintered in Constantinople but gathered together his remaining men to fight in the Holy Land along with the French. In June 1148 at a great assembly at Palmarea, near Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel), the crusaders and the Franks of Jerusalem and Tripoli decided to besiege Damascus. Until recently the Damascenes had been allied with Jerusalem, but the rise of Nûr al-Din of Aleppo and his growing rapprochement with Damascus meant that it was a sound strategic choice to attack the city. The Christian troops arrived at Damascus on 4 July 1148, but after achieving early progress through the dense orchards to the south of the city, they decided to move northward to try to achieve a quick breakthrough. There, however, they found no water, and with Nûr al-Din heading toward the city with a relieving army, they were compelled to withdraw.


After the exhortations of Abbot Bernard and the enormous hardship and expense of the campaign, the collapse of the siege of Damascus after only a few days was a humiliation to the Christians. Equally, it was a source of great delight and encouragement to their Muslim opponents, who saw that the rulers of the West were not invincible. The crusaders struggled to explain their reverse. Conrad III of Germany was adamant that the Franks of Outremer had been bribed by the Muslims into leading the crusader army astray. The Franks were also said to be unenthusiastic about the prospect of Westerners taking over Damascus for themselves while they remained unrewarded, in spite of the decades they had spent fighting the Muslims. For Bernard of Clairvaux, the reason behind the fiasco was the crusaders’ failure to travel with the right intention: their motives must have been clouded by thoughts of greed and honor because with pure hearts they would have prevailed. The chronicler Henry of Huntingdon contrasted the defeat of the glory-seeking kings and nobles at Damascus with the success of the more humble forces at Lisbon.

The Second Crusade evolved into an ambitious and broad-ranging attempt to broaden Christendom on three fronts, yet it made real progress only in Iberia. The failure of the campaign in the Holy Land damaged the standing of the papacy, soured relations between the Christians of Outremer and the West for many years, and encouraged the Muslims of Syria to even greater efforts to defeat the Franks.

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