The Old World
Finds The New

Start of the Crusades

In the fifth century A.D., barbarians overthrew the once mighty Roman Empire. The next five hundred years following the fall of the Roman Empire (about A.D. 500-1000) are known in European history as the Dark Ages. In this period governments were weak and bandit gangs roamed freely over the countryside. To travel or to carry on trade was almost impossible. Most people were poor and ignorant. Only the Christian Church and a few strong rulers kept European civilization alive.

Because of its weakness, Europe was invaded many times. The most powerful invaders were the Moslems, or Mohammedans. They followed Islam, a religion founded in the seventh century A.D. by the Prophet Mohammed. The Moslems tried to conquer Europe and convert the Christians, that is, make them Moslems. They managed, however, to conquer only Spain, which they ruled for hundreds of years, and part of France.

In time the Christians became very tough fighting men. Their knights, dressed in armor and mounted on sturdy horses, were able to stop invasions. In time, also, conditions in Europe improved greatly. Eventually, Pope Urban 11, the head of the Christian Church in western Europe, felt that his people were strong enough to defeat the Moslems. In the year 1095, he called on the Christian knights to drive their enemies out of the holy land of Palestine, where Jesus was born. Many knights answered his call. To show they fought in a holy cause, they wore on their clothes and armor the sign of the holy cross (crux in Latin). Their wars against the Moslems have therefore been called the Crusades, or Wars of the Cross.