The Crusades were a series of wars fought by Christian kingdoms from all over Europe under the name of religion. The Crusades cannot all be considered religious wars, because while the earlier Crusades made attempts to reclaim the Holy Land from the Muslims, some of the later Crusades were directed against fellow Christians – like the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars in Languedoc.

The Crusades to the Holy Land began in 1095 with the First Crusade and continued until the Fall of Acre in 1291. While these Crusades were ultimately unsuccessful, they had a significant impact on the Renaissance which started shortly after in the 1300s.

So, how did the Crusades impact the Renaissance?

Let’s find out.

How did the Crusades Impact the Renaissance?

We will focus this article on the Crusades to the Holy Land as these had the most profound impact on the Renaissance. As we mentioned in the introduction, the 1st Crusade was launched in 1095 by Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont.

And after almost 200 years of warfare and one crusade after another, the crusader presence in the region ended with the Fall of Acre.

So how did the Crusades impact the Renaissance in the following century and beyond?

Here are 5 ways how:

  1. The Crusades opened trade routes that were exploited during the Renaissance for trade and the Age of Exploration.
  2. The Crusades started the decline of feudalism, which in turn, laid the seeds of humanism & individualism – the philosophical cornerstones of the Renaissance.
  3. The Crusades made merchants more prominent which would eventually cause a shift in power away from the Church and monarchs.
  4. The Crusades facilitated the inflow of knowledge and ideas into Europe as a result of the intermingling of different cultures and religions in the Holy Land.
  5. The Crusades stopped the western spread of Islam and created a buffer (in space and time) that would eventually permit the Renaissance to flourish.

Let’s now look closely at each of these different ways in which the Crusades impacted the Renaissance.

#1. The Crusades opened trade routes

During the 1st Crusade, which was launched by Pope Urban II in 1095, Crusader armies led by different European monarchs reached the Holy Land taking different routes.

Godfrey of Boullion and his armies took the land route along the Danube along modern-day Belgrade and Sofia to reach Constantinople. Raymond of Toulouse, Robert of Normandy, Stephen of Blois and others, came down through France into Italy to Rome, then Bari, then across the Adriatic, via Adrianople to Constantinople.

Richard Lionheart took the sea route straight to Tyre. These land armies marched from Constantinople to the Holy Land.

How did the Crusades impact the Renaissance
Krak des Chevaliers
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What this demonstrates is that the European monarchs found a way to transport large masses of people from across Europe over thousands of kilometers. And it’s important to note that the people making these epic journeys were not just soldiers.

Crusader armies were almost always accompanied by cooks, tailors, shoemakers, and other artisans, traders, merchants, and even religious pilgrims intent on reaching the Holy Land. Along the way, these people need to be fed, sheltered and clothed. Supplies had to be brought or purchased.

And once Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders in 1099, it opened up a regular flow of people and goods from Europe to the Levant and back. Italian maritime cities like Venice and Genoa began to benefit from the transport of pilgrims and crusaders in one direction and silk, spices and other exotic products in the other. Trade between Christian European nations and the Muslim world reach new heights and new trade routes beyond the Levant opened up.

These new trade routes would then be further exploited during the Renaissance for the exchange of products, goods, ideas and knowledge with the Levant and the wider world. These trade routes also opened up paths for the Age of Exploration.

#2. The Crusades started the decline of feudalism

Feudalism was a system of power, protection, governance, and land holding that was prominent in the Middle Ages in Europe. It was a system that was both social and political in nature, where the strong protected the weak in return for something. It started with the king or emperor at the top and the peasants at the bottom.

In Feudalism, a vassal would promise fealty to his lord in exchange for land and protection. Fealty involved the vassal agreeing to fight for his lord in times of war. And so during the Crusades many vassals followed their lords into battle. But this had unintended consequences.

After capturing lands far away from home, many Crusaders decided to stay behind. Being lords in their own rights in the newly conquered territories was more attractive than returning to the vassalage in Europe.

Eventually, this took a toll on feudalism which started to decline through the age of the Crusades. This decline in feudalism had a profound impact on the Renaissance because people started to think independently, developed a spirit of inquiry and questioning, and eventually rejected dogma as well as social and political structures that had been in place for centuries.

#3. The Crusades made merchants more prominent

As we saw earlier in this article, the Crusades opened up trade routes for trading European nations to sell their goods into the new markets of the Levant and for exotic products to enter European markets.

This rise in trade and commerce with the Muslim world made merchants wealthier and therefore more prominent in Europe. This was a huge shift from before when most of the power and wealth lay with the nobility and the Church.

The rise in the prominence of merchants that started during the Crusades would continue into the Renaissance. The Renaissance would impact merchants even more by making them wealthier and powerful enough to become rulers in their own right. We saw this with the Medici family which started as merchants and bankers and ended up as rules of Florence during the Renaissance.

#4. The Crusades facilitated the inflow of knowledge and ideas into Europe

It is important to remember that at the time of the Middle Ages in Europe, Muslim countries had a much more advanced form of education and knowledge compared to what was common in Europe. This was the Islamic Golden Age which lasted from about the 8th century till the 14th century.

Islamic science was advanced in astronomy, botany, cartography and mathematics. Islamic doctors were aware of diseases like measles and smallpox. During the Crusades, knights, warriors and other travelers spent time in Muslim lands and the intermingling of people from different cultures would eventually lead to an inflow of new knowledge into Europe.

This in turn would lay the foundation for the advances in science, philosophy and mathematics which would constitute the Renaissance.

#5. The Crusades stopped the western spread of Islam

Modern historians often tend to see the Crusades as an attack by European Christian nations on Muslim lands in order to free the Holy Land. While this is true, what is often forgotten is that this action may also have prevented Muslim nations from making inroads into Europe.

European armies had successfully halted the march of Islam into the heart of Europe a couple of times already. For example, in 732AD, in the Battle of Poitiers, Charles Martel stopped the Umayyad Caliphate from reaching Paris. At the time the Umayyads controlled the entire Middle East, North Africa and modern-day Spain.

So by capturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land, the Crusades created a buffer zone preventing the growth of Islam westwards into Europe. This created breathing space for Europe to advance and eventually for the Renaissance to take root.

And the Renaissance could never have happened had it not been for the relative political stability that Italy experienced in the early 14th century despite the fall of Acre and the end of the Crusades.

And so by stopping the western spread of Islam the Crusades helped create the environment in which the Renaissance could flourish.


So, how did the Crusades impact the renaissance? In this article, we analyzed some of the ways in which we feel the Crusades impacted the Renaissance.

We saw how the Crusades opened up trade routes and made merchants more prominent. We also saw how it facilitated the inflow of knowledge into Europe, helped with the decline of feudalism, and stopped the western spread of Islam.

All these factors combined together helped create the conditions in which the Renaissance could flourish and make its lasting impact on European culture.