What Were the Crusades?

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What comes to mind when you think of the crusades? Earnest and alarmingly buff knights (in shining armor, of course) engaged in against-the-odds quests to accomplish godly deeds in an evil world? Red crosses on pure white backgrounds? Orlando Bloom?

This is not surprising. A quick look at our pop culture and politics in the West reveals a continued fascination with the crusades. Compared with popular representations, the historical reality is more complicated and often less heroic.


This introductory essay is published by Khan Academy, an online open educational resource.