What were Crusades? How they led to development of Nation State?

In 11th and 12th century, there was a significant conflict {called Investiture Controversy} between Church and State. This mainly referred to challenges given by the successive Popes to the authority of monarchs. Initially, the Papal Authority {hegemony of church} prevailed and reached its zenith in 13th century. Pope remained superior to the emperor. The bishops presided over bishoprics, as the governors had once presided over the Roman provinces. Local priests ministered to each local community. Those bishops who were geographically or politically important became archbishops.

Reasons of rise and decline of Church hegemony

One of the most important reasons for the rise of Church in medieval Europe is that it was far better organized than the political establishments. The extensive and systematic organization of the Church gave it access to a great wealth. Further, Church actually provided the only real opportunity for an exceptional individual to excel and rise above the social status of his birth. The too much wealth led to corruption by the office holders of the Church and that led to loss of prestige by the end of the middle ages.

The Church Doctrines

In those days, the Church was the constant link between the common man and God. The doctrine of the Church held that one could only get to heaven by doing good works and observing the sacraments. The sacraments refer to the holy seven sacraments viz. baptism, confirmation, communion, penance, holy matrimony, holy orders, and extreme unction or last rites. The Church Doctrine said that these seven sacraments would keep an individual constantly connected with God and the Church from birth to death. The Individuals could be punished by excommunication {process of being cut off from the Church} when a person could not receive the sacraments.

Not only individuals but the Church could also punish the entire geographic areas via its interdiction which prohibited the performance of any of the sacraments in that particular geographical area. This implies that the interdiction was used as a powerful weapon against immoral, rebellious or independent feudal rulers.

These two instruments viz. excommunication and interdictions led to the so called religious wars called Crusades.


The term crusade is somewhat similar to Jihad. It referred to a series of religious wars against Muslims, pagans, heretics, and peoples under the ban of excommunication. These wars were overseen by priests, directed at establishing control of Church, and involved persecution and driving out of non-catholic people from the “holy territory”. Crusades were also a response to the Turkish activity of restricting the religious pilgrimages and persecution of the Christians.

Since Church promised salvation for all who fought in Crusades, common people were attracted to this fight for God and glory. These wars continued sporadically for three centuries but not much successful politically mainly because of some reasons such as – Muslims were formidable enemies; the crusaders became more interested in fortune hunting and looting etc. Nevertheless, crusades brought tremendous economical, social and political changes. They helped in reestablishment of trade across territories as the soldiers brought back many of the products of the East including spices and textiles.

How crusades led to development of the Nation States?

The expansion of the trade led to development of new products and new merchant class for carrying out the transactions. Thus, a whole new class of merchants appeared in the society. The cities began to grow as centers of population and trade. Many of the cities such as Venice and Pisa became great port cities. This was the development of the new economy of trade. This growing, neo-rich class could not fit into the centuries old system of existing political and social structure of feudalism. The ownership of land became less important. The decreasing importance of the land ownership eventually led to the breaking down of the feudal system. The traders and merchants developed their own system to bring order to the new economics. This new organization was known as Guild System which was mainly to maintain the quality and prices of goods and services. The Guild System allowed the merchants and craftsmen to maintain control over their own professions. Any outsider was forbidden to practice a trade or enter a business without the approval of the guild membership. Once established, the guilds would become as rigid in their own way as the old class structure. These merchants and craftsmen formed the basis for a new class of town dwellers, the bourgeoisie and burgesses. The political and social systems were not able to keep up with the economic changes. One the one side, there was a development of powerful and prosperous cities driven by the new economy of the merchant class. On the other hand, the estates and land remained in the hands of the landlords, who now lost their importance to the trading class.

Those monarchs who were willing to increase their power in the new society led to the rise of new centralized modern states. In the remote estates, many of the landowners had been killed during the Crusades leaving more land in the hands of fewer people. Now, the cities and towns started attaching their development to the Kings rather than the lords. They wanted a protection from this centralized monarchy against the lords. In return, they paid taxes to the King. King was now having more wealth in controlling the lord, who until now were independent of his authority. The strong kings were supported by the merchants in lieu of the protection, uniform law, measures and weights and several trade concessions. The wealth was used by the Kings to pay for new modern and well equipped armies and navies. Old nobility had no wealth to keep up with such changes. This is how the crusades led to development of the nation states stimulated by the trade.