Four Misconceptions About the Crusades: #2 The Crusaders Were Greedy Opportunists

Misconception #1: The Crusades Were Not Provoked


Misconception #2: The Crusaders Were Greedy Opportunists

One popular history textbook talks about the Crusades as the exploits of soldiers of fortune: “The Crusades fused three characteristic medieval impulses: piety, pugnacity, and greed. All three were essential” (Warren Hollister, J. Sears McGee, and Gale Stokes, The West Transformed: A History of Western Civilization, vol. 1 [New York: Cengage/Wadsworth, 2000], 311).

The idea that the Crusades can be boiled down to the exploits of greedy opportunists is slanted, narrow, and held by the credulous. Of course, every military endeavour has its stories. There are always going to be those who engage in war with passions motivated by personal and selfish gain. Therefore, there is no need to defend those who lost sight of the most noble objective (protection of the West and the capture of the Holy Land).

However, it must be understood that most of the Crusaders had to spend their own fortunes to embark on the Crusades. Plundering Muslim towns did nothing more than help finance the war. This was not anything out of the ordinary in those days. Even the wealthiest nobles had to trade most of their wealth to “take up the cross” of a Crusade. These knights, counts, and kings rarely expected to receive a flow of land and wealth from the east. In fact, the primary leaders of the first Crusade (Godfrey of Bouillon, Bohemond of Taranto, and the great Raymond of Toulouse) all swore an oath to Alexius, Emperor of Constantinople, that any lands won would be placed back into the Roman Empire (even if two of the three reneged on this oath after Alexius’ perceived betrayal). Raymond of Toulouse had everything to lose. He gave all of his lands to his son before he left. The financial risk become more severe as the Crusades carried on throughout the years. King of France Louis IX’s seventh Crusade, in the mid-thirteenth century, cost more than six times the annual revenue of the crown.

In short, the money flow was primarily from West to East, not from East to West. For most, the Crusades led to bankruptcy rather than wealth, which is why indulgences became abused and the Crusades eventually had to stop. Criticize the Crusades for many things, but to say that those who “took up the cross” were greedy opportunists evidences a naive indulgence in revisionist history.

Here is another great concise book about the Crusades that I suggest.

6 Responses to “Four Misconceptions About the Crusades: #2 The Crusaders Were Greedy Opportunists”

  1. This is an attempt to take a complicated subject like the Crusades and polarize and simplify it. There were devout, God fearing Christians in the Crusades. There were intolerant religious bigots in the Crusades. And anyone who does not think there were greedy people in the Crusades,should go back and read more than one history book. Most of the “Crusaders” who took part in the fourth Crusade did not even reach the Holy Land; but spent their efforts supporting the Venetians in their attempt to capture Constantinople over trade disputes. They even installed one of their own as emperor. This permanently weakened the Christian capital of the east to such an extent that it never recovered and was subsequently captured by the Muslims.
    A point to consider….. Jesus never fought a military war.
    Another point to consider……the barbarians primarily became Christians after they had conquered Rome, not while Rome was fighting them. Many people will die for Jesus, fewer are prepared to make the sacrifice of living for Him in conditions of oppression.

  2. C Michael Patton January 22, 2013 at 7:22 am


    Your understanding, if I am hearing your correctly, is anachronistic. You are attempting to impose post-enlightenment standards of the separation between church and state on medeval societies. The Crusades were not holy wars in the way you think of them. To defend one’s nation and right to survive in the name of one’s god was simply the only way that these knew how to defend such a task. And to add other spiritual benefits to the task would have been necessary.

    The whole idea of a “just” war is truly central to whether or not one sees legitimacy in military conflicts, spritual or secular. However, this is again missing the point. The only thing to focus on here is whether or not the Crusaders’ primary motive was greed, which I don’t think it was.

    I am curious. . . what works are you reading that are informing your understanding of the Crusades in such a way?

  3. To say that “Jesus never fought a military war” is irrelevant to this discussion. Jesus never drove a car, but that doesn’t mean we must not drive cars.

    Jesus came to do the will of His Father and to give His life a ransom for all. Unless Jesus spoke on a subject, what He did or didn’t do is usually irrelevant.

    Unless one has decided that the God of the Old Testament was a “bully” and that Jesus of the New Testament was a pacifist softy (as many liberal theologians claim), as you look at the Old Testament record you have to admit that a believer can rightfully engage in war (even sometimes an offensive war).

    Now, I do realize that the Israelites were mandated by God to engage in war against certain peoples, and the crusaders did not have the same direct revelation, but we can at least conclude, as Michael has stated, that there are situations where a war can be called “just.”

  4. How come you did not include the sack of Constantinople and the birth of Latin empire? Or that when the crusaders swore to return the conquered land they just kept it for themselves?


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