Note: There are helpful historical resources, linked at the end of this post. Also, if interested in the view of the Kingdom of Heaven as taught in the gospels, see the post "The Real Kingdom of Heaven"
Next week director Ridley Scott (of Gladiator fame) brings his medieval epic, The Kingdom of Heaven, to the Big Screen. The time period of the film, the medieval crusades, is a period of history of which much of the western world remains ignorant. Many in the west have been educated in the secular educational systems of the United States and Europe, where much of Christian history has been minimized, at times given a predominately negative slant. Therefore, an understanding of the people, times, and beliefs of the Crusades are caricatures at best for most of us. This film will bring great interest in the history of these times, so what is offered here is a brief context for what we will be viewing. As always, this film is a Hollywood story based upon history and will have its many shortcomings. Hollywood seldom has good things to say about Christianity, so I do not expect much to be done here. I'll comment more on the actual depiction once the film is in release. (Updated - World Magazine's Jamie Dean has done some research which shows some of the gross historical inaccuracies in the film. The usual contemporary re-visioning of history to be more in today's image than theirs...what is the world envisioned by the film? A world of tolerance, pluralism, and a distortion of the actual beliefs of the people involved) This was indeed a dark time in history, yet it bears heavily in our day with the current jihad declared against the West by certain Muslim radicals. Indeed, parts of the world have a long term memory of this protracted time of conflict. What follows is very brief, but I pray helpful, historical fly-over of the setting of this film and help you discern what you watch if you choose to see the film.
By the 7th century AD, the Christian gospel had spread throughout North Africa, the Middle East, parts of Asia, and all of Europe. Almost all that was once Rome, had been thoroughly Christianized. In 570 AD, Muhammad, who would become the prophet of Islam was born in Arabia. In 622 Muhammad flees the city of Mecca to Medina in what is known to Muslims as the Hijra. Eight years later, Muhammad’s armies conquered the city of Mecca establishing Islamic rule. Over the course of the next 300 years, the armies of Islam succesfully conquered the territories of Northern African, the Middle East, Asia Minor, Persia/Iraq as well as much of central Asia. Muslims had conquered the Iberian peninsula (including Spain), some parts of France (though they were successfully expelled due in part to the leadership of Charles Martel), parts of Italy, and much of the Mediterranean. Beginning in the late 7th century, the Eastern Byzantine Empire had withstood multiple Muslim onslaughts over the course of several hundred years. The major centers of Egyptian Christianity had fallen and Constantinople was consistently under siege. At the close of this period of Muslim expansion and conquest, the Christian world underwent a split. In 1054 the Latin West and the Greek East parted fellowship in what became known as the Great Schism . This was important in understanding a crucial dynamic leading up to the Crusades. East and West had split, though they were both Christian, and a call for aid would soon come from the East.
In 1095 the Eastern Byzantine Empire sent emissaries to the Western church to ask the Western Church and provinces to come to their aid. These events gave rise to Pope Urban II's calling of the First Crusade. The goals of the Crusade was to come to the aid of Eastern Christians under Muslim aggression, provide secure passage to pilgrams to Jerusalem, and recapture the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. The First Crusade led by Western princes was successful and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was established in 1100 under the rule of Baldwin I. The Crusader states in the Levent lasted for nearly nine decades until they fell to the Muslim leader and general Saladin in 1187. The movie “Kingdom of Heaven” is set during this time period during the last days of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Several other Crusades were launched over the next several centuries. Richard “the Lionheart” of England had some success in the Third Crusade reestablishing the city of Acre and regaining pilgrim access to Jerusalem. In 1291 the city of Acre once again fell to the Muslims bringing an end to Christian states in the Holy Land. The later crusades were filled with infighting amongst eastern and western Christians, harsh anti-semitism and Jewish persecution by lawless Crusaders, as well as crusades amongst Christians. Needless to say they were highly ineffective. After this period, The Ottoman Empire began its rise in the latter periods of the middle ages (1300-1600) becoming the dominant Muslim power in the world. The Ottoman Empire consistently advanced in the Balkans and on the eastern fronts of Christian lands. The Ottomans were held at bay by the Austrio-Hungarians as well as the Russian powers. The Ottoman Empire remained a nemesis to parts of Europe and was not thoroughly defeated until World War I when the modern Turkish state was established after the Allied victory. After World War II allied control led to the establishing of a Jewish state in Israel. This has inflamed the Islamic world to this day with many radicals unwilling to accept any Jewish presence in the Middle East. A Brief Time Line in Reference to "The Kingdom of Heaven"
- 700-1000 – The Years of Muslim Conquest
- 1054 – The Great Schism between Western and Easter Christians
- 1095 Pope Urban II opens the Council of Clermont. Leaders from the Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus come to ask assistance from the Western Christians.
- 1096-1099 – The First Crusade and the establishment of the Latin States
Timeframe depicted in Kingdom of Heaven Movie
- 1187 – The Battle of Hattin – massive defeat of the Christian forces which is featured in the film
- 1187 – The Fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem
Timeframe depicted in Kingdom of Heaven Movie
- 1291 – Fall of Acre – last Christian state in the Holy Land
Time Lines and References
- Crusades - from the Catholic Encyclopedia
- A TimeLine of the Crusades - from Christianity Today
- A Detailed Secular Timeline at About.com (can be a bit anti-Christian in slant)
- A Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas F. Madden - An excellent but brief history of the Crusades and the sociology of Christian Europe in that time.
- Also in an updated, but somewhat longer edition. The New Concise History of the Crusades, Revised Edition also by Thomas F. Madden