During the Middle Ages, Christians expressed their faith by making pilgrimages to the Holy Land where Jesus had once lived. This area which was once called Palestine, is now known as the country of Israel. Christian pilgrims were especially interested in visiting the sites mentioned in the New Testament. Primarily, they were interested in visiting the Sea of Galilee, and the site where Jesus was laid to rest after the crucifixion. Up until the 11th century access to these locations was not a problem, and the Muslim governors that controlled area were happy to have the pilgrims. However, things would soon end when a group known as the Seljuk Turks invaded the Holy Land. They would no longer welcome the Christians. In 1071, things heated up when the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantine army at the Battle of Manzikert. Then just a short time later, the rebel Seljuk Turks set their sites on the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. At this time, desperate appeals went out to the Catholic Pope and the West to come to their aid.
Finally, in 1095, Pope Urban II, delivered a spellbinding speech to the French aristocracy. He called on them to mirror the brave acts of their ancestors and avenge the atrocities committed by the Seljuk Turks. He promised them a place in heaven if they undertook his call to liberate Christendom, driving the infidels from Jerusalem. The response was amazing. Knights poured in from Normandy, France, Germany, Italy, and Norman Sicily. Over 25,000 men assembled in Constantinople, for what historians call the First Crusade. From the very beginning there was friction between the Byzantines and the knights. The Christian knights separated from the Byzantines almost as fast as they left the city. From there, the crusaders traveled southeast across Asia Minor into Syria. Here they defeated the Muslim forces in the ancient city of Antioch. Then, in the summer of 1099, they would finally recapture Jerusalem. Once inside the city, the crusaders slaughtered over 10,000 Jews and Muslims.
Eight major crusades would be fought over the next 200 years. However, none would be as successful as the First Crusade. Over the years, the Muslims began to retake the land that they had lost in the First Crusade. The call for a Second Crusade was led by St. Bernard of Clairvaux a powerful abbot. This crusade was led by the kings of France and Germany. They never made it to Jerusalem.
Then in 1187, the Muslims were led by a new general named Saladin. Soon he reconquered the Holy Lands. This caused King Philip Augustus of France, King Richard I, and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany to lead a Third Crusade. Only King Richard and his army would fight Saladin. However, they would not recapture Jerusalem, instead they would get Saladin to agree to reopen the city to Christian pilgrims. Pope Innocent III called for the Fourth Crusade. Venetian merchants charged the knights a fortune for the voyage to the Holy Land. The merchants told the knights that they would pay their passage to the Holy Land if they would attack the city of Zara first. Zara was Venice's chief trade rival. The crusaders sacked Zara, and then Constantinople, but they were Christian cities. The next four crusades accomplished almost nothing.