Prior to that meeting, the Pope had received messages from Byzantine ruler Alexius I Comnenus; in particular, the emperor had asked for Catholic aid against attacks from Turkish forces. At the council session, then, Urban urged supporters to help their Christian brethren in the fight against the Muslim soldiers. And apparently the head of the Catholic Church had yet another motive for encouraging such intervention. In short, it’s been said, he wanted Christians to reclaim the Holy Land.
In 1096 Christians from Western Europe therefore marched to the Holy Land to do battle with Islamic forces. Yet reclaiming the area would not be an easy task. Indeed, the Crusades – as they would come to be called – only ended in 1291, when the Muslim armies emerged victorious. And, in total, eight separate major campaigns were waged throughout nearly two centuries. Our story begins, however, back in 1187.
In that year, the Christian soldiers were still suffering from their most recent blow. You see, they had just lost their base of operations – Jerusalem – to Saladin, the leader of the Muslim Ayyubid force. Yet even despite this setback, the Christians didn’t decide to simply retreat.