The Crusader colony Edessa fell to the Muslims in 1145. In response, Pope Eugene III called for a second crusade. Kings Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany answered the pope’s declaration and marched to the Holy Land to free Edessa. The Second Crusade culminated with the siege of Damascus, which ended in spectacular failure.
The German and French crusaders decided to link together at Constantinople. The Germans arrived at the city gates on September 10, 1147. Conrad III decided not to wait for Louis VII’s forces to arrive and marched toward the Holy Land. Conrad underestimated the Muslims and the size of their force. The Turks nearly annihilated Conrad at the Second Battle of Dorylaeum. Conrad’s brother led a second German force, which was destroyed by the Turks in 1148.
The French followed the German route and eventually merged with the remnants of Conrad’s army. The German king fell ill and returned to Constantinople for treatment. Meanwhile, Louis ignored warnings about an imminent Turkish attack and marched. The French defeated the Turks on two occasions and continued on. Turkish attacks continued and began to take a toll. Louis decided to forsake the land route and sail directly, but storms and lack of ships delayed his trek. Eventually, the crusaders set sail, but disease and Turkish attacks decimated the army.
The crusaders arrived in Jerusalem on March 19, 1148. The Muslims began preparing for a confrontation, fortified Damascus, hoarded supplies in the city, and assembled troops. In June, the crusaders decided to strike Damascus. 50,000 troops marched to the Muslim city in July.
The Muslims prepared for nearly six months for the attack. They were waiting for the crusader forces. The Islamic army managed to push the crusaders back into a nearly impossible position. They cut the besieging force to pieces. The European kings wanted to continue despite the losses. However, the local crusaders decided to withdrawal. The Europeans would eventually go home, but the others lived in a hostile territory and could not afford to lose men. The crusaders retreated.
In Europe, the crusade was viewed negatively. The Europeans recognized the debacle and blamed each other. The French accused others of openly colluding with the Muslims. Meanwhile, the Muslims grew even more hostile to the Christians. Fighting continued for the next few decades. Jerusalem found itself surrounded and eventually fell to Saladin in 1187. This initiated the Third Crusade.
The Second Crusade was a European folly. The monarchs fought amongst themselves, the Turks picked off men as they marched to the Holy Land, and then the siege of Damascus failed miserably. The Second Crusade was a sideshow for Europe, but had major consequences for the Middle East. Jerusalem became besieged and eventually fell to the Muslims.