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This Week In History

The Fifth Crusade. May 27, 1217.

The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) consisted of a series of military actions initiated by Western Europe in order to recover Jerusalem and the rest of the Holy Land, by first trying to conquer Cairo under the control of the Ayyubids. Pope Innocent III and his successor, Honorius III, summoned the crusaders, led by the forces of Andrew II of Hungary and Duke Leopold VI of Austria. They tried to attack Jerusalem, but ultimately left the city in Muslim hands.

In 1218 two armies, one led by Oliver of Cologne from Germany, and another by William I of Holland, composed of Flemish, Dutch and Frisian soldiers, joined the Crusade. They allied forces with the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum in order to attack Damietta (Egypt). The Seljuks launched an attack on the Ayyubids in Syria, trying to free the crusaders from fighting in two fronts.

Meanwhile, Hungary and Austria intended to assemble a force of a magnitude never seen before. The first crusaders, coming from Western Europe, left heading East from the Vlaardingen port on May 27, 1217 with 300 ships. They nevertheless arrived later than the Hungarians and the  Austrians. This was because they made a stop in Santiago de Compostela and great part of the soldiers were convinced by the Portuguese to help them capture the city of Alcáser do Sal, at the time under the control of the Almohads.

The Austrian and Hungarian forces gathered in Split (Spalatro) . From Split, first the Austrians left, and after 16 days travelling, they arrived at Acre in the Mediterranean coast. Hungarians left later and did not reunite with Austrians until October. Upon their arrival at Acre, they were greeted by Raoul of Merencourt, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. The first war council was held in Andrew II´s royal tent. In attendance  were Leopold VI, Hugh I of Cyprus, Prince Bohemund IV of Antioch, the three leaders of the Crusaders— the Grand Masters of Knights Hospitaller, Templars and Teutonic knights—and King John of Jerusalem. Their target was, as in previous crusades, to retrieve the lands in the hands of Muslims, this time fighting the Ayyubids from Syria.

The crusader army headed south to the mountain range near Acre, and set up their camp on the outskirts of Riccardana (Tel Kurdana). The first expeditions searched for food supplies in order to sustain the huge army. On November 3, the Latin Patriarch and the Bishop brought a piece of the True Cross, that had been lost in a previous battle in 1187. Both kings (Andrew II and Leopold IV) walked barefoot, kneeling and kissing the relic as a signal of worship.

Al-Muazzam, son of the Sultan al-Adil watched the crusaders closely, though his father did not allow him to attack, probably because he overstated the Christian forces. On November 4, Christian forces advanced in to explore the surroundings of the castle of Mount Tabor, and on November 10 w ere already crossing the Sea of Galilee, entering the Jordan River from the north and heading to Acre. During the journey, sources reported invasions of several settlements, great lootings, as well as visiting sacred places like Capernaum or bathing in the Jordan River.

In 1218, a new army commanded by Oliver of Cologne joined forces with Leopold VI and John of Brienne and finally decided to attack the Egyptian port of Damietta. The siege was long and harsh with hundreds of casualties on both sides, but the crusaders finally took the city in 1219. Shortly after, disputes among the Christians for the control of the city exploded. These disputes, along with the lack of help of the German king, delayed the campaign and the crusaders could not start their journey to Cairo until 1221. By that time, the Sultan al-Kamil had reorganized his troops, and the flooding of the River Nile decimated the Christian troops on their way south. These events ended with the Christian defeat and surrender, ending the Fifth Crusade.

 

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