The Crusades, Islam, and The Silk Road

The period from the beginning of the Crusades  through their close was a time of great upheaval in the Euro Asian continents. For 176 years there was a constant ebb and flow of changing borders, religions, and political regimes. Christianity and Islam grew simultaneously in adjoining continents, and rarely as comfortable neighbors. While the different religious factions would skirmish, often near their borders, it wasn't until Pope Urban II met with Alexius I from the Byzantine Empire that an all-out holy war was waged. Alexius needed Urban's help in defeating the Turks, and Urban needed to unify the Catholics because an unsatisfied minority had just appointed a secondary Pope.

Urban rallied the Catholics by warning them about the Turks preventing them from visiting the holy lands and by promising them everything from absolution to indulgences. He was able to raise a pilgrimage to the holy lands with a side of war.1. The soldiers echoed the words of their leaders, “deus vult,” or God wills it.

During the nine crusades and the Children’s Crusade, little was done to obtain or retain the holy lands. Eventually the holy wars became about destroying lands that were anti-Catholic. Most of these lands were in Northern Africa. Under Alexius III, crusaders who were stranded and broke in Constantinople pillaged, raped, and killed Christians and Muslims alike. They left the city in such poor condition that it never recovered and was eventually taken over by the Seljuk Turks.2. You would think that would have brought the end of the crusades, but they waged on with five more wars before their final battle.

From the beginning of the People's Crusade until the close of the last battle, nearly two million people were killed.3. They were pagans, Christians, Islamists, Jewish people, and many unaffiliated people as well. This took a heavy toll on the Islamic territories.

One of those territories, the Abbasid Empire, was more advanced in weaponry and technology than its predecessor, the Umayyad Dynasty. It was also more leery of the outside religions that closed in on its lands forcing them to pay a protection tax. And while the Umayyads increased the geographical growth of the Islamic Empire, the Abbasids expanded the cultural growth. Warriors and explorers in the Umayyad Dynasty gave way to intellectual and cultural innovators. Abbasids believed that God could be understood through rational inquiry and practice, and that belief should always be subject to reason.4.

The Abassids chose to follow a leader that was descended from Muhammed’s youngest uncle, Abbas Ibm Abd al-Muttalib, but the Umayyad political administration was split between two groups, the Sufyanids and the Mawanids. The Umayyad strength actually came from the powerful Syrian army.

The Umayyads had made a practice of allowing other religions to remain active even after their host nations were conquered as long as they paid a tax. Non-Arab Muslims found this very appealing. Many of those people converted to Islam. During the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, lands such as the Caucasus, Transoxiana, Sindh, the Maghreb and Al-Andalus were conquered. The Islamic lands spanned more than 6,000 miles. Both dynasties followed the five pillars of Islam, and they expanded their territory by a tactic known as “spread by the sword.” They differed in who they believed should be in power. Umayyads appointed Mu’awiya leader after the son-in-law of Mohammed was assassinated. During this time there was a lot of infighting between differing groups of Muslims. To alleviate this the Umayyads decreed Arabic to become the national language. This helped to unify the massive Islamic Empire. They also streamlined all of the money to a single coin style, which led to exponential growth in trade.

The Abbasids took control of the Islamic Empire, because of many reasons. The Umayyads were constantly warring which weakened their forces, and there were new plagues showing up all the time; measles, yellow fever, the black plague, and others cut swaths through the cities. The new Abbasid territory continued to prosper despite this. Their capital was moved from Damascus, Syria, to Baghdad, Iraq.5. This caused the Persian culture to move throughout the territory. Persian even became the secondary national language.

This Eastern movement created constant friction with the Chinese territory. During one of these battles a hostage taught the Islamic soldiers how to make paper. The speed at which paper could be produced and its highly portable nature helped to fuel the spread of information throughout the Islamic territories. European teachings -- including those of Aristotle, Arabic laws, Greek math, and so much more -- were available in every city. They were controlled by newly appointed regional governors who would invoke taxes as they saw fit. Under the Abbasids, the Islamic Territory became a massive kingdom. They eventually were destroyed by the constant wars between the Seljuk Turks and the Byzantines.6.

While the crusades raged on, and the Golden Age of Islam changed the shape of the inhabited world, walkways, paths, and roads became more interconnected.

These roads began linking cities, nations, and continents. Eventually known as the Silk Road, the route became the overland road that transported goods of all types across Europe and Asia. It was called the Silk Road because of the massive quantities of silk that were transported from China and sold or traded to the rest of the world.

Large caravans of merchants traveled and camped along the road. When they camped, they commingled with the locals, and when they moved on, they left mounds of refuse behind.

These things fostered the spread of disease at unprecedented levels. Sexually transmitted infections and many other diseases were being carried from town to town.7.   The worst of these was the Black Death. The plague had sprouted before in much smaller bursts.. Roughly 85 million people died during the pandemic, including 60% of the citizens of Europe. The time of the crusades and the Black Death cut huge swaths out of the populations of the world.

There is, of course, no accurate way to tell what advances in civilization might have been made during this time if it weren’t for the mass deaths. Most scientists were focused on making weapons or curing diseases. Millions of people that might have been the next doctor, inventor, or teacher lost their lives before being able to contribute to society.



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Lesson 1: History of the Abbasid and Umayyad Dynasties. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2016, from

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Timeline for the Crusades and Christian Holy War. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2016, from

  1. (2013, February 24). Abbasid and Umayyad Caliphates. Retrieved June 07, 2016, from