Why Did People Go on Crusades?



The Crusades were a series of religious wars fought by Christians in the medieval period. These military campaigns aimed to regain control of the Holy Land, particularly Jerusalem, from Muslim control. The Crusades spanned over two centuries, from the late 11th to the 13th century. The motivation behind why people decided to participate in these expeditions is multifaceted and can be attributed to various factors.

Religious Zeal and Pilgrimage

One of the primary motivations for individuals to join the Crusades was religious zeal. Christianity was the dominant religion in Europe at the time, and the idea of defending the faith and liberating the Holy Land held immense spiritual significance for many. The opportunity to fight for their religious beliefs and protect sacred sites, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, motivated thousands to take up arms and embark on this perilous journey.

The Call of Pope Urban II

The call for the First Crusade by Pope Urban II in 1095 played a crucial role in mobilizing people. His impassioned sermons and promises of spiritual rewards, including the forgiveness of sins, attracted a significant number of Christians. Many saw this as an opportunity to secure their place in heaven and gain divine favor. The Pope’s call to action ignited a wave of religious fervor, leading to the recruitment of both nobles and peasants.

Motivations of the First Crusaders | Professor Jonathan Phillips

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Political and Economic Factors

While religion was the primary driving force, political and economic factors also played a significant role in motivating individuals to participate in the Crusades.

Feudalism and Land Hunger

Feudalism was a dominant social and economic system in medieval Europe, characterized by a hierarchical structure and land ownership. Participating in the Crusades offered an opportunity for younger sons and knights with limited prospects to seek new lands and wealth. The prospect of acquiring land, riches, and titles in the conquered territories enticed many to join the cause.

Expanding Trade Routes

The Crusades also had economic incentives. The desire to control and secure trade routes to the East, particularly for lucrative goods like spices, silk, and precious metals, motivated European powers. The Crusades opened up new trade opportunities and expanded the economic influence of participating regions. Merchants, seeking profits from these ventures, sponsored crusading armies and joined the expeditions themselves.

Adventures and Personal Gain

For some individuals, the allure of adventure and personal gain was a significant factor in their decision to embark on a Crusade.

The Romance of Chivalry

The medieval concept of chivalry, with its ideals of honor, bravery, and knightly valor, captivated the imaginations of many young nobles. The Crusades provided an opportunity for them to test their skills, earn glory, and build their reputation. The allure of chivalry and the chance to participate in something larger than themselves attracted many knights to join the Crusades.

Escape from Troubles and Debt

For some, the prospect of escaping personal troubles, debts, or criminal charges provided a compelling reason to join the Crusades. By leaving their homeland and participating in a holy war, individuals could seek redemption, start afresh, or avoid punishment. The Crusades offered a chance for social mobility and a clean slate.


The motivations behind why people went on Crusades were complex and varied. Religious zeal, political aspirations, economic incentives, the allure of adventure, and personal gain all played a role in driving individuals to join these military campaigns. The Crusades left an indelible mark on history, shaping religious, political, and cultural landscapes for centuries to come.

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