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Basic Information

The Crusades were a series of religious wars in the 11th, 12th, and 13th century intended to restore Christian rule over the Holy Land and to reverse Islamic conquest and colonisation of Europe and the Middle East. Since then, the word "crusade" has become a generic word for a vehement struggle (often military in nature) in the Western world.

Although the Christian World had been fighting a rearguard action against Islamic invasion for some time (arguably since the immediate sucessors of Mohammed started their push northwards) religious warfare was a late entrant to their doctrine1 - the wars of Charles Martel to expel the Umayyads from France were not Crusades, nor were many of the early battles of the Reconquista, or the wars fought by the Byzantines to defend their own lands. Crusading was primarily an innovation of the Church of Rome and remained primarily in their hands. The First Crusade in 1096 was allegedly a pilgrimage in force to re-open pilgrim routes to the Holy Land closed by the Muslims2, but clearly aimed at the liberation of Jerusalem. Later Crusades were more open about their aims and usually less sucessful3. The last of the Crusades to the Holy Land was the ninth, taking place in 1272 - the whole enterprise stretched the logistic and strategic capabilities of Western Europe and, as far as the Levant was concerned, achieved short lived gains, frequently reversed and lasting less than two centuries.

Crusades were also called in Spain, where they were far more sucessful and proceded on and off until the final victory of the Reconquista in 1492 with the liberation of Grenada from Islamic rule.

Other, shortlived crusades were also preached to resist Islam on a variety of other occasions - for example the 1565 Siege of Malta was granted Crusade status by the Pope of the time.

Not that Crusades were only employed against Islam - once the Romans had the Crusading stick in their hands, it could be used to beat all sorts of people including the Cathars and the pagans of the Baltic region. The 1588 Spanish attack on England ("The Spanish Armada") was nearly granted Crusade status, but the Pope of the time lingered over granting his blessing (and finance) until failure was apparent - at which point he decided against it. The last conflict to be officially granted Crusade status was Generalissimo Franco's liberation of Communist/Anarchist controlled Spain during the 1936-39 Civil War: this status granted due to the violence of the Communists and Anarchists against Roman Clergy and Church Property in their territory.



Game and Story Use

  • In fictional settings, "crusades" are often used as a word to describe pretty much any religiously-motivated warfare. Whether the crusaders are the good guys or the bad guys depends on the religion in question organizing it - and their leaders. Or, of course, neither side might be the good guys. Nevertheless, getting involved in a crusade - whether as participants, opponents, or mere bystanders - will provide plenty of opportunities for adventures, intrigues, and action.
  • In a setting where "divine magic" actually works, the GM will need to address the spiritual effects of Crusading. Medieval crusaders were promised various forms of spiritual merit, including the remission of all or most of their previous sins in return for doing battle with the enemies of their religion - a fantasy deity might offer all sorts of rewards for those worshippers prepared to stand up and be counted.
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