The Second Crusade: The Sins of the Sons
After the success of the First Crusade, western Christendom had successfully established a presence in the Levant. By 1109, four major Latin states were under their crusaders’ control: the Principality of Antioch, the County of Edessa, the County of Tripoli, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. It was from these states that the Franks, as their new Muslim neighbors referred to them, exerted their influence over the surrounding areas.
During the period between the First and Second Crusades, the settlers were aware of their inability to hold the conquered lands without a persistent presence of armed forces. Thus in the first half of the twelfth century the Levant saw the emergence of the military orders as a defense for the crusader states. These military orders would provide an army and become influential, beyond measure, in the Levant. They would grow to be more than just a military force but that is beyond the scope of this discussion.
The first half of the twelfth century, though arguably the calmest period for the crusader states, was not without issues. When Godfrey of Jerusalem, who refused the title of king, died without heirs, his brother Baldwin became king. Baldwin also died without any heirs and the throne was again passed on to a relative, also named Baldwin. Baldwin II of Jerusalem was involved in nineteen campaigns during his reign and had attempted to encourage a crusade to capture Damascus two decades prior to the Second. He also had to deal with the issue of his successor, as again no male heirs had been produced, which led to the marriage of his eldest daughter to Count Fulk V of Anjou.
Antioch was also busy dealing with a series of successive leadership problems. Its early history is marred by the capture of Bohemond, the founder of the principality, and the regency of Tancred. Though Tancred was able to extend the borders of Antioch, its immediate future consisted of the regencies of King Baldwin II and, on Baldwin’s death, King Fulk. While all of this occurred, Antioch was also in a rocky relationship with the Byzantine Empire.
Through all of this, however, Antioch and Jerusalem were able to assert their influence to dominate Christendom’s influence in the region. Though while the Christian states had solidified their hold, their counterparts were busy doing the same. Whereas in the First Crusade they had fought against a disunited Muslim world, they were now to face a far more dangerous and organised threat.
The First Crack
In 1144 the County of Edessa fell. In December it was faced with a siege from Imad ad-Din Zengi and on the 24th it capitulated. Zengi, atabeg of Mosul and Aleppo, had cemented his position as the most formidable Muslim ruler. His dynasty would last until near the end of the twelfth century when his sons were displaced in Syria and Saladin would later establish his rule in the region.
Edessa was the first crusader state to have been formed and the first to have fallen. In less than fifty years the crusaders had been dealt their first serious blow.
Quantum Praedecessores – Calling The Second Crusade
On 1 December 1145, Pope Eugenius III issued the papal bull ‘Quantum Praedecessores’ as a response to the travesty that had befallen Edessa. He shrewdly built upon the appeal of Pope Urban II at Clermont by reinforcing much of what his predecessor had offered 50 years earlier: the remission of sins and the danger to Christianity. The crux of drawing similarities between his call and that of Urban’s was characterizing the crusaders of the earlier expeditions as fathers of the present sons. For Eugenius the failure to defend their success would be devastating and would do injustice to their memory.
The Crusade in Motion
Unlike the First, western kings would lead the Second Crusade: Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany. This had two important effects on the crusade. Firstly, recruitment was high. Secondly, in 1147 Louis and Conrad made their separate ways towards the Holy Land. That they took separate routes to the Holy Land and, through skirmishes, reached Jerusalem with a weakened force had a calamitous impact on the crusade. The armies that left Europe were not an accurate representation of the armies that had amassed at Jerusalem in 1148.
It was here, in Jerusalem, that the decision to target Damascus, and not Edessa, was made. Damascus was seen as a more immediate threat to the Christian presence in the Levant because of its proximity to Jerusalem and the fact that it had come under the sphere of influence of Zengi’s successor, Nur ad-Din. A well thought out choice, without the benefit of hindsight, that had it been taken would have made for a rather different landscape in the Levant in the latter half of the twelfth century.
Within four days of their attempt to besiege Damascus, however, the Christian forces were forced to retreat. Mu’in ad-Din, the ruler of Damascus, had sent for reinforcements. These arrived in the form of two forces led by Nur ad-Din and his brother Saif ad-Din Ghazi, who forced the retreat of the crusaders. This was a humiliating and humbling defeat, not just for the crusaders, but also for the Christian presence in the Levant, and would have lasting ramifications.
Though its failure had immediate consequences, the crusade’s inability to show an effective response to the military prowess of the Muslim world was of the most concern. The Christians needed a response; they got none. They instead got the Second Crusade, an example of a disunited Christendom. While the Muslims were busy concentrating their forces against a common enemy, it appeared that the Christians had failed to follow in their fathers’ footsteps.
[The Second Crusade] was a boost to the Muslims because it consolidated the conquest of Edessa and, more importantly, it proved that the might of Christian Europe could be humbled.’
Within four decades of the loss of Edessa, Saladin would gather much of the Islamic world under his command and conquer Jerusalem. The crusader states would lose the spiritual centre of their hold in the Levant and this would precede the coming of the Third Crusade.