Second Crusade - History of the Crusades
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The Second Crusade

fortified stone castle
Castle of Edessa

November 2016 - After the First Crusade in 1096 AD set up Christian kingdoms all along the coast of Israel and Lebanon, of course the Fatimid caliphs who had ruled that area before were very upset.

medival painting of a woman standing while a man in armor kneels to her
Melisende and her
son Baldwin

By 1144, a Mamluk general, Imad-ed-din Zangi, had managed to unite enough Turks and Arabs in his army to attack the Christian kingdoms. Zangi did not take Jerusalem, but he did take the Syrian city of Edessa nearby. Queen Melisende of Jerusalem sent a message to the Pope asking for help getting it back - a second Crusade.

In Europe, people were very upset to learn that the Turks had taken Edessa. First, this was an Islamic defeat of Christianity. Second, it threatened the kingdom that the Normans of the First Crusade had set up, which was making them (and their European relatives) a lot of money.

high stone wall
Walls of Damascus

The Pope ordered Bernard of Clairvaux (in France) to preach a second crusade to take it back and defeat Zangi. The young king of France, Louis VII, agreed to go, along with the queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. So did Conrad III of Germany, the Holy Roman Emperor. Louis was 23 years old and Eleanor was 22. Conrad was 51 years old.

But this time the Islamic forces succeeded in fighting off the invasion. Seljuk Turks killed most of Conrad's soldiers as they marched through Turkey. When Louis and Conrad reached Jerusalem, Queen Melisende (who was 39 years old, old enough to be their mother) asked them to attack Aleppo, to get a base for recovering Edessa. But Louis and Conrad decided instead to attack Melisende's ally, Damascus. The Mamluks managed to fight off the Christian attack, and the kings and queens went home in disgust - and Melisende lost her Damascene allies. This would prove to be a model for the rest of the Crusades too: now that the Islamic armies knew what to expect, they could fight off the Crusaders as they had not in the First Crusade.

More about Eleanor of Aquitaine
More about the Third Crusade

Bibliography and further reading about the Crusades:

More about the Third Crusade
The Holy Roman Emperors (Germany)
The Capetians in France
Medieval Europe
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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