The Second Crusade had begun with high hopes. After the fall of the County of Edessa, European powers were again motivated to come to the aid of the fragile Crusader States. The kings of France and Germany, Louis VII and Conrad III, led their large forces in person. In contrast, the Muslim world was still disunited. The prospects had seemed so good, and yet, worse than nothing resulted: the Christian world shattered along several fault lines while the Muslims gradually gathered their forces for a concerted counterattack.
The enterprise soured even before the kings made their rendezvous in Jerusalem. The armies, which proceeded over land through Byzantine territory, came into conflict with their hosts. The Byzantines were wary of foreign armies engaging in looting under the name of forage, while the westerners saw the Byzantines as obstructionist, not least because of their truce with the Turks. To conclude the inauspicious opening of the Crusade, the Germans, who led the column, suffered significant losses in their first battles with the Turks.
Relations with the leaders of the Crusader States were little better than they had been with the Byzantines, despite kinship ties, because the local rulers made their proposals with an eye toward their own advantage. In the long run, this was not really illegitimate. The Crusades could only have succeeded as an enterprise if they were capable of laying down lasting roots, providing the resources for existing projects and the future replenishment of losses through its own stores. To the European lords, however, it seemed as if their local cousins had allowed personal interest to interfere with the grander goals of the crusade. As a result, some measure of personal pique joined with greed in the decision to attack Damascus.
Damascus was a rich prize, and for the pious, its eventual capture was something of a priority, but under existing circumstances, it was a disastrous choice. The Burid kings who ruled it were actually allied with the Crusader States against the steady encroachment of Nur ad-Din. As it happened, the disposition of the siege was bungled, and after four days, with Nur ad-Din on hand to take advantage of any further mistake, the kings were persuaded to lift the siege. Jerusalem’s Damascene allies had been driven to the camp of Nur ad-Din without anything to show for it, and the remaining westerners began to see treachery in every turn of events against them. In the waves of recrimination that resulted, the Christian participants turned against each other, even as their Muslim foes coalesced.
Tensions between Orthodox and Catholic rose, with the ironic exception of the ties between the King of Germany and the Byzantine Emperor. Even though the Germans had suffered a worse reception than the French on their way to the Holy Land, their respective kings did have common opponents in Italy, and on the return home, the two monarchs enjoyed a surprisingly warm rapprochement. Sentiment elsewhere in Europe, however, saw the Byzantines as traitors to the cause, and some already suggested the prospect of a crusade against Byzantium itself. While these ideas did not come directly to fruition, they did lay the groundwork for the eventual course of the Fourth Crusade, in which Constantinople was indeed seized by the crusaders.
German ties with Byzantium exacerbated tensions between the French and the Germans, although the Byzantine alliance was itself based upon common interests in the face of French policy in southern Italy. What is important here is that national politics became more important than the common effort, a characteristic that would appear again when the Third Crusade arrived at the end of the century.
The relations between the lords who had settled in the Holy Land and their European cousins had taken a serious blow. The Europeans saw the local lords as being soft, and too strongly influenced by eastern culture, as well as being too motivated by their own political prospects. For their part, the local lords saw the short-term crusaders as boors who sabotaged their own chances of success because they failed to take the political realities into consideration.
This rift was to have lasting consequences as well. The Crusader States were to spend the next thirty-nine years in a vain effort to build up their domains into lasting kingdoms, even as their foes gathered strength. Their numbers were too small, however, and progress was correspondingly slow. Substantial European aid might have made a difference, but the tensions outlined above ensured that little aid came, and when it did, it was short-lived and amateurish. Typically, the arrival of a European contingent meant that the crusading forces would be pressured into making an offensive against their Muslim opponents; it was a regular phenomenon, and the Muslims understood that existing truces would temporarily be abrogated for such events. Under these circumstances, the truce would be restored without negative consequences as soon as the newcomers embarked on the voyage home. More than anything else, this was true because during this period, both sides needed the truce as they struggled to resolve their own internal disputes and prepare for a more meaningful combat in the future.
The trouble for the crusaders lay in the fact that time favored the Muslims. The Muslims had the advantages of a far more substantial pool of manpower, if only they could be united, and the appearance of leaders like Nur ad-Din and Saladin who were capable of doing precisely that. During this period, the crusaders had no one who might compare with these leaders, and so the gap in strength continued to widen.
The only hope that the crusaders might have had against such leaders was conflict within the Muslim world. The Sunni-Shi’ite dispute was a real factor holding back the unification of the Muslims against the Crusaders, and it was a dispute that was, in fact, used to a lesser degree: in another of the ironies of the Crusades, the Knights Templar and the Ismaili sect of Assassins made common cause against the dominant Sunni leadership. More substantial ties of alliance had become impossible, however, as a result of the Second Crusade. The march of the crusaders against Damascus robbed them not only of a particular ally, but also of their prospects for future alliances.
For all of these reasons, the Second Crusade had made possible the rise of Saladin and the catastrophic losses that precipitated the Third Crusade. The abortive siege of Damascus laid the foundations of the Battle of the Horns of Hattin and the siege of Jerusalem. The Second Crusade began as an effort to reclaim the County of Edessa, the easternmost of the Crusader States; in the event, it did worse than nothing. It led to the loss of Jerusalem itself, and an end to the dream of making Outremer, the land beyond the sea, a self-sustaining Christian kingdom.
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