How important was Spiritual Motivation for the participation in the First Crusade

The First Crusade offered its participants full remission of sins, which was an appealing offer to many who lead less than morale lives. The relics found, and the penitential acts done in devotion to God show that there was a large amount of religious fervour. However, at this time, owning land was also a very important thing to people, as it still is today, and many who had been disinherited by family members took up the cross for material gain.

When Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade, he made it clear that it was a Holy War – a war that God himself approved of. At this time, the life expectancy was very low, with many living into their 30s or 40s, if they were lucky, so religion played a key role in people’s lives. By praying, and going to confession, sins could be forgiven. However, people like the Equestrians lived sinful lives, of violence and aggression, and were fearful that they would not go to heaven. By offering full remission to this class, they would be able to carry on their violent careers without any fear of a poor afterlife.

The People’s Crusade, which was led by Peter the Hermit, was based strongly on spiritual motivation. Peter the Hermit claimed to have a ‘Letter from God’, which inspired his followers to take up the cross. The People’s Crusaders believed that they were doing God’s work, and the likelihood of them being able to claim land during their Crusade was very low, so it is undeniable that they must have gone through Spiritual Motivation.

As the Crusaders besieged Antioch in October 1097 to April 1098, they believed that the lack of success that they was having was because God was displeased with them. Therefore, in 1098 they decided to ‘purify’ the camp, by getting rid of all the Camp Followers. This penitential act was repeated in 1099 when they besieged Jerusalem, however this time they marched barefoot around Jerusalem. If their primary reason to go to the Holy Land was for material wealth, they would not have done this, emphasising the importance of Spiritual Motivation for the crusaders.

This idea is enhanced by the relics found by the Crusader. In Antioch, Peter Bartholomew discovered the Holy Lance, which motivated the troops enough to leave the city in 1098 and attack Kerboga, even though they were greatly outnumbered, and following the successful capture of Jerusalem they found a piece of the ‘True Cross’ which motivated them enough to fight against Fatamid relief armies.

However, not everybody went because of their spiritual motivation. Many of the Crusaders, like Bohemond of Taranto, had been disinherited and stood to gain no land when their father died. The opportunity to go to the Holy Lands and claim a portion of land for themselves was overwhelming, and many took up the cross just so that they could do this.

Bohemond of Taranto, despite being a good leader, never actually completed his Crusade. He stayed in Antioch, where he promised to get his troops in if they acknowledged him as the Overlord of Antioch. If Bohemond was on the Crusade for religious reasons, he probably would have got them into the city without asking for it to be given over to himself. Furthermore, Baldwin left the Crusade in search of land for himself – eventually inheriting Edessa. Tancred is another example, upon claiming Jerusalem, he was desperate to find some land, eventually getting Galilee and ruling Antioch for a short period of time. This lust of land shows that they had material gain at the top of their lists, rather than to please God.

As the Crusaders went into Jerusalem, they pillaged it. They took as much of the wealth that they could, and raped and killed its citizens. Although they had planned to reduce the number of infidel, this was by all means a massacre, which they benefitted from. If they had truly been there just for spiritual reasons alone, they may have converted Muslims into Christendom, rather than murder them outright.

Although material wealth probably played a key role in why the leaders went on the Crusade, the rank and file did not stand to gain as much land. Approximately two out of every three Crusaders died or deserted on the way to Jerusalem, and paying your life for material gain was not thought highly of for peasants to be doing, even in the Middle Ages. In my opinion, Spiritual Motivation was the pivotal reason for why a majority went on Crusade, as the risks they took, they penitential acts they took a part in and their devotion to the relics and the cross all greatly outweigh the idea that they would have gone just for land or wealth.

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