The Motives of the Earliest Crusaders and the Settlement of Latin Palestine, 1095-1100

The Motives of the Earliest Crusaders and the Settlement of Latin Palestine, 1095-1100

By Jonathan Riley-Smith

The English Historical Review, Vol. 98, No. 389 (1983)

Introduction: According to one early twelfth-century story St Ambrose, disguised as a crusader, appeared in a vision to an Italian priest and asked him why there had been such a great response to the appeal of Pope Urban II for crusaders. The priest replied that he was troubled, because

different people give different reasons for this journey. Some say that in all pilgrims the desire for it has been aroused by God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Others maintain that the Frankish lords and most of the people have begun the journey for superficial reasons and that it was because of this that setbacks befell so many pilgrims in the Kingdom of Hungary and in other kingdoms; and for that reason they cannot succeed.

The story demonstrates that contemporaries were divided in their views about the motives of the earliest crusaders. The debate continues today and every historian of the First Crusade has sooner or later to face up to the question what moved men to take the cross. It is true, of course, that large numbers of people were involved, from different backgrounds and with the variety of motives that is always to be found in any group of human beings. But historians are forced to generalise to some extent and when they do so marked differences in emphasis appear, ranging from the arguments of those who have been inclined to stress the ideological appeal of crusading, at least on the level of self-consciousness, to the counter-arguments of those who look for material reasons for the popularity of the crusade, especially land-hunger resulting from over-population, primogeniture and the practice of the frereche. The sources for the crusade point in both directions.

Click here to read this article from the Trinity History Department

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

Smartphone and Tablet users click here to sign up for
our weekly email