Crusades - Background - Middle Eastern Situation

Middle Eastern Situation

In 636 CE, Muslim forces led by the Arab Rashidun Caliphs defeated the Eastern Roman/Byzantines at the Battle of Yarmouk, conquering Palestine. Jerusalem fell to Caliph Omar's forces in February 638. The Umayyad Dynasty was inaugurated by Muawiyah I, sole caliph from 661, who made his capital in Damascus. In 750 the Umayyads were overthrown by the Abbasid Dynasty of Baghdad and from 878 Palestine was ruled by semi-autonomous governors in Egypt until the Fatimids conquered it in 969. The Fatimids, whose empire stretched to Morocco and centered on Egypt, were tolerant for the times and had many trade and political relationships with the Christian states of Europe. In 1072 the Fatimids lost control of Palestine to the rapidly expanding Great Seljuq Empire. They regained control of it in 1098, but their control was shaky, with the countryside subject to raids by Bedouin nomads and Turkish mercenaries.

One factor that may have contributed to Western interest in Palestine came during the reign of the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah who ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In 1039 his successor permitted the Byzantine Empire to rebuild it. Pilgrimages had been allowed by Christians to the holy sites in Palestine from soon after their conquest by the Muslims. However, under the Seljuqs pilgrimage routes were disrupted and the unsettled conditions in Palestine were not conducive to either pilgrims or merchants. The Muslims realized that much of the wealth of Jerusalem came from the pilgrims; for this reason and others, the persecution of pilgrims eventually stopped. However, the damage was already done, and the violence of the conquering Seljuk Turks became part of the concern that spread support for the Crusades across the Christian world.

Read more about this topic:  Crusades, Background

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