CRUSADES, in relation to Persia. The term “crusade” refers to a series of Christian holy wars fought in the Middle Ages against the Muslims in Syria and Palestine and subsequently elsewhere in the Near East and, by extension, to wars against other enemies, both within and outside Christendom, that were put on the same spiritual footing by the popes. In this article the Near Eastern conflicts are considered only insofar as they affected Persia.

In the early 12th century

(This discussion is based on the following general sources: Ebn al-Aṯīr, X; Ebn al-Qalānesī; Sebṭ b. al-­Jawzī; Cahen, 1940; Sivan).

The First Crusade, summoned by Pope Urban II in 1095, was designed to aid the Byzantine emperor against the Saljuqs. There seem to have been small grounds for reports of Muslim persecution of eastern Christians and western pilgrims to Jerusalem and other holy places; the phenomenal response to the pope’s call should be attributed rather to developments in the West itself (see Cahen, 1954). The early successes of the First Crusade, which led to the establishment of a Frankish presence along the Syrian littoral, resulted above all from the profound disunity of the Islamic world at a time when jehād (religious war) had largely lost its meaning. It is arguable that the death of the Saljuq prince Totoš b. Alp Arslān (488/1095) had removed the one Syrian Muslim ruler capable of halt­ing the Frankish advance, as his two sons Reżwān and Doqāq, ruling respectively in Aleppo and Damascus, lacked their father’s dynamism. Their cousins in western Persia, representing the so-called “great Saljuqs,” were engaged in constant internecine strife and were in any case barely affected by Frankish operations. They were not totally heedless of appeals for help from Muslim Syria, however; it was in response to such a call that Sultan Barkīāroq (485-98/1092-1105), in 491/1098, summoned the faithful to take up arms and expel the infidel (Ebn al-Jawzī, Montaẓam IX, p. 105). But it was not until Barkīāroq’s death and the undisputed succession of his brother Moḥammad (498-511/1105-18) that the Saljuq gov­ernment was free to intervene militarily in Syria. A number of expeditions were sent westward, directed against the two most northerly Frankish states, the principality of Antioch and the county of Edessa (Rohā, now Urfa). Most of these campaigns were headed by the atabeg of Mosul, Šaraf-al-Dīn Mawdūd, who mounted several attacks upon the Franks between 504/1110 and his murder in 507/1113. His successor, Āq­sonqor Borsoqī, made another attempt in 508/1114. The composite nature of the sultan’s armies, which included contingents under such amirs as Soqmān Qoṭbī of Mayyāfāreqīn (modern Silvan) and the Artuqid rulers of Dīārbakr (modern Diyarbekır), undermined their effectiveness, however; furthermore, they aroused the well-founded suspicion of the Syrian Muslim rul­ers that the aim was to subject or eliminate them also. These princes were consequently ready on occasion to sink their differences with the infidel and to collabo­rate against the sultan’s forces. One notable instance was the Frankish victory, at Tell Dāneṯ in 509/1115, over the last of Moḥammad’s armies, commanded by Borsoq b. Borsoq, amir of Hamadān, which was won with the aid of the Saljuq rulers of Aleppo and Damas­cus. This campaign marked the end of Moḥammad’s attempts to assert his authority in Syria. After his death and the outbreak of fresh disputes among members of the Saljuq dynasty in Persia, the burden of reducing the Frankish position was eventually assumed by the ruler of Mosul, Zangī (521-41/1127-46), acting autono­mously.

The Il-khanid period and after

The subjugation of Persia by the Mongol prince Hülegü (Hūlāgū), followed by his advance into north­ern Syria, once more brought residents of the Persian world into direct contact with the crusaders but on very different terms. It is possible that during their brief occupation of Syria the Mongols acted with compara­tive restraint toward the Frankish possessions from fear of provoking a new European crusade (Jackson, pp. 496-99), but, in any case, the confrontation effectively ended with Hülegü’s withdrawal in the spring of 658/1260 and the overthrow of his general Ketbuqa by the Mamluks of Egypt at ʿAyn Jālūt in the autumn. Dissension within the Mongol world over the next few years induced Hülegü to make friendly overtures to the French king, Louis IX, in 660/1262, in the hope of avenging ʿAyn Jālūt while the Mamluks’ energies were absorbed by a Frankish seaborne attack (Meyvaert, pp. 249, 259). His son and successor, Abaqa (663-80/1265-82), dispatched a series of embassies to the popes from 665/1267 onward, notably the mission that attended the second Council of Lyons in 1274; he also made an abortive attempt to invade Syria during the crusade of the future Edward I of England in 1271. Under Arḡūn (683-90/1284-91) the il-khans’ efforts to secure military collaboration against Egypt reached their peak. One of Arḡūn’s envoys was the celebrated Nestorian cleric Rabbān Ṣawma, who vis­ited Rome and the French and English courts in 1287-­88 and has left an account of the mission (Budge, pp. 165-97). In another letter, to Philippe IV of France in 688/1289, Arḡūn proposed to take the field early in 690/1291, to rendezvous with a crusader army, and to restore Jerusalem to the Franks. After Arḡūn’s death contacts lapsed until the reign of his son Ḡazan (Ḡāzān; 694-703/1295-1304), whose victory over the Mamluk army and brief occupation of Syria and Pales­tine in 699/1300 caused a great stir in western Europe (see Schein). It was only after his second Syrian campaign that Ḡazan resumed his father’s policy, writing in 701/1302 to Pope Boniface VIII to propose a military collaboration. The diplomatic contacts with Europe initiated by his successor, Öljeitü (Ūljāytū), in 705-07/1305-07 were the last such exchanges. The obstacles had included not merely distance but also residual Western distrust of the Mongols, dating from the devastation of Poland and Hungary in 1241-42, and papal concern (at least before the conquest of Frankish Syria by the Mamluks in 690/1291) that the il-khan should be baptized in advance of any joint operations. In the 15th century Western powers engaged in spasmodic diplomatic exchanges with various Persian potentates, with a view to cooperation against the rising empire of the Ottoman Turks. Examples include the opening of relations between the Castilian king Enrique III and Tīmūr through the mission of Ruy González de Clavijo in 804/1404 and the more sustained negotiations between Venice and the Āq Qoyunlū sovereign Uzun Ḥasan (857-82/1453-­78). Again, however, these contacts produced no concrete result. In the following century the Safavid shahs Esmāʿīl I (907-30/1501-24) and Ṭahmāsb I (930-­84/1524-76) were in turn considered as possible allies against the Turks; but by that time Western crusading endeavors had effectively terminated.



J. A. Boyle, “The Il-Khans of Persia and the Princes of Europe,” Central Asiatic Journal 20, 1976, pp. 25-40.

E. A. W. Budge, The Monks of Kûblâi Khan Emperor of China, London, 1928.

C. Cahen, La Syrie du nord à l’époque des croisades et la principauté franque d’Antioche, Paris, 1940.

Idem, “An Introduction to the First Crusade,” Past and Present 6, 1954, pp. 6-30.

Ebn al-Qalānesī, Ḏayl Tārīḵ Demašq, ed. H. F. Amedroz, Leiden, 1908; tr. H. A. R. Gibb as The Damascus Chronicle of the Crusades, London, 1932.

P. Jackson, “The Crisis in the Holy Land in 1260,” English Historical Review 95, 1980, pp. 481-513.

L. Lockhart, “European Contacts with Persia, 1350-1736,” in Camb. Hist. Iran VI, pp. 373-411.

P. Meyvaert, “An Unknown Letter of Hulagu, Il-Khan of Persia, to King Louis IX of France,” Viator 11, 1980, pp. 245-59.

A. Mostaert and F. W. Cleaves, Les lettres de 1289 et 1305 des ilkhan Aṛγun et Öljeitü à Philippe le Bel, Cambridge, Mass., 1962.

J. Richard, “Chrétiens et Mongols au concile. La papauté et les Mongols de Perse dans la seconde moitié du XIIIe siècle,” in 1274 année charnière. Mutations et continuités (Lyon-Paris 1974), Paris, 1977, pp. 31-44; repr. in Croisés, missionnaires et voyageurs, London, 1983.

J. S. C. Riley-Smith, The Crusades. A Short History, Lon­don, 1987.

B. Roberg, “Die Tartaren auf dem 2. Konzil von Lyon (1274),” Annuarium Historiae Conciliorum 5, 1973, pp. 241-300.

S. Schein, “Gesta Dei per Mongolos 1300. The Genesis of a Non­ Event,” English Historical Review 94, 1979, pp. 805-19.

Sebṭ b. al-Jawzī, Merʾāt al-zamān VIII/1-2, Hyderabad, 1371-72/1951-52.

D. Sinor, “The Mongols and Western Europe,” in K. M. Setton, gen. ed., A History of the Crusades III. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, ed. H. W. Hazard, Madison, Wisc., 1975, pp. 513-44.

E. Sivan, L’Islam et la croisade, Paris, 1968.

(Peter Jackson)

Originally Published: December 15, 1993

Last Updated: November 2, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VI, Fasc. 4, pp. 433-434