The Effect of the Crusades—The Fall of Constantinople
F OR two centuries the Crusades had filled Europe with unrest. The lives of millions of men had been sacrificed, and in the end the Holy Land remained in the possession of the unbeliever. The Crusaders had accomplished nothing of what they had set out to do. But they had wrought great changes in Europe. For one thing they had caused a redistribution of wealth and power. They had helped to weaken the power of the great feudal lords, and they had strengthened that of both kings and peoples.
When the great nobles wanted money to enable them to set out on a Crusade they sold or mortgaged their lands and everything they possessed. To such an extent was this so that King Richard of England declared that he would sell London if he could find a suitable purchaser. In this way many great estates changed hands. Some were bought by churchmen, thus the Church grew stronger. Others came into the hands of the kings, either by purchase, or because the vassal to whom they had been granted never returned from the Holy Land, and they naturally fell to the king as overlord. Thus the kings became stronger.
But most of all the people benefited. In return for money supplied the feudal lords were obliged to grant many privileges to the towns. The burghers began to have new ideas of freedom, manufactures and commerce increased, guilds and corporations were founded, and soon became powerful. For the mere equipment of the great hosts which every now and again took their way towards Palestine necessitated a certain amount of trade and manufacture. The transporting of these same hosts across the seas encouraged shipbuilding. New plants and fruits, such as lemons, apricots, maize, and sugar-cane, were introduced into Europe, through which both agriculture and manufactures were given an impetus.
The villains and slaves, too, profited. For in the absence of the constantly warring nobles they could sow and reap in peace, and life for them became both happier and easier. A few also bought their freedom by following their lord's example and taking the cross. Everywhere thus the bands which had bound society began to loosen, and the great gulf which had separated the upper and the lower classes began to be bridged.
In the nobles themselves changes took place. They had gone forth to fight the infidel, scorning him as a barbarian. Everywhere in the east, both in the Eastern Empire and in the Mohammedan lands, they had found a culture and civilization far greater than their own. Science, especially that of medicine, was far more advanced in the east than in the west. Even in the science of war the Crusaders found that they had something to learn form the despised infidel. In the west it had required a knightly vow to make a man courteous and gentle. Everywhere in the east the Crusaders found a refinement of manners to them undreamed of. They found a love of art and letters, and graces of life, of which before they had had no conception. And although they affected to despise these things they were not without their influence.
Added to this the mere act of travel broadened their minds. Many who joined the Crusades had never before left their own village. They had no consciousness of other lands or peoples. Now, as for weeks they marched through strange countries, their ides of the world became enlarged. They heard of yet other lands far beyond Palestine. The desire to know more of them was awakened and a great impulse was given to the study of geography and of history. Poetic literature, too, received an impulse, and many of the finest mediæval romances have to do with the story of the Crusades.
These changes only came gradually. They were changes which were bound to come, and if the Crusades had never taken place they would have come in time. But the Crusades undoubtedly hastened that time.
The Ottoman Turks
One other office the Crusades performed. That was keeping the Turks out of Europe. For while they were engaged with the Crusades they had no energies to attack the Eastern Empire. And when the Crusades came to an end the Empire of the Seljukian Turks was also tottering to its fall. But its place was soon taken by that of the Ottoman Turks, who had been driven westward by the great Genghis Khan and his successors.
They were at first only a small tribe of pastoral warriors. But they increased rapidly in power, and before the end of the thirteenth century they had become a menace to the Eastern Empire. Bit by bit they wrested from the Greeks what little remained of their possessions in Asia, then they passed into Europe.
On and on they came, farther and farther west. Nothing it seemed could stay their conquering march, and all Christian Europe trembled. Then once more the pope called upon Christian warriors to defend the Church of Christ against the infidel, and the kings of France, Germany, and Hungary, uniting their forces, marched to check the terrible foe. But at the battle of Nicopolis in Bulgaria the Christian army was cut to pieces, and the victorious foe vowed that he would not stay his march until he had stabled his horses in the Church of St. Peter at Rome.
Fall of Constantinople
But before he had time to fulfil his threat the Turk was called back to fight another foe and defend his conquests against the attacks of the terrible Mongol, Tamerlane. The Turks in their turn went down before this fierce conqueror, and the Ottoman power was humbled to the dust. But in a wonderfully short time the Ottomans recovered themselves, and fifty years after their defeat by Tamerlane they, for the last time, laid siege to Constantinople. This time the capital of the Eastern Empire, which had withstood their onslaughts for so many hundred years, fell. The last emperor, named Constantine, like the founder of the Eastern Empire, died fighting for his capital, and the great sultan, Mohammed II, rode in triumph into the Church of St. Sophia.
Thus the Crescent triumphed over the Cross, and an Asiatic and alien people took their place among the nations of Europe. They held sway over a huge territory, including parts of what are now Austria, Hungary, Russia, Greece, Serbia, Rumania, and Bulgaria, besides many other lesser provinces. From the Black Sea to the Adriatic, from the Dniester and the Bug to the Mediterranean, the Crescent flew victorious. Added to this the Ottomans had a great Empire in Asia and Africa, and the Sultan boasted "that he was master of many kingdoms, ruler of three continents, and lord of two seas."
The Ottoman Turks were the last barbarian tribe to settle upon European soil. They did not disappear like the Huns, they were not driven forth like the Saracens, they have in no way become Europeanized like the Hungarians or Magyars, they have remained Asiatic and alien, a blot upon the map of Europe to this day.