The County of Edessa was one of the states under crusader rule in the 12th century. Today, the county of Edessa will be somewhere along the borders of Turkey and Syria. Edessa played an important role in the spread of Christianity in the region and was also the hub of many scandals.
In this article, we bring you the complete history of the county along with the state’s engagements.
The county of Edessa was landlocked. Anyone who ruled the county was ruling it alone and had to go through a lot of trouble to keep it under their control. Because it was far away from modern civilization, it was prone to attacks and unfair takeovers. Throughout history, a lot of examples of hostile takeovers over Edessa are present.
It was in this same way that the crusaders came to Edessa in the 12th century. At that time, because of the location of Edessa in the middle of two important kingdoms, Edessa became the hub of intelligence sharing and analysis of modern civilization. As the county was still growing, the King could manipulate the narrative of the whole county.
To understand the crusades, the county of Edessa, and the role it played in the crusade wars against Muslims, let us start from the very beginning.
Crusades were a series of wars fought on the basis of Christianity. They were most famously fought in the period between 1095 and 1291, and most of these religious wars were fought near Jerusalem. Jerusalem played an important role in the religions of Christianity and Islam, which is why the followers of these two religions fought for control of this holy land.
The strategies of the crusades and their wars were pre-planned by the authorities sitting in the seats in the well-civilised states and countries. A lot of blood was shed in the way of gaining control over a city. Neither the Muslims nor the Christians backed down, and with time, the real purpose of the crusades was lost.
In the start, the Christians wanted people to understand and accept their religion as their own but in harmony and peace. Later, as the crusader states and allies grew, they started forcing some other states to accept Christianity as their sole religion and fight beside them. People from different religions came together to defend each other from this barbarism, and history reveals that a great number of small and big battles were fought between the crusaders and the rest of the world.
Origin of Edessa
At the start of the 11th century, a Christian of Armenian origin but Greek orthodox background, Thoros, was ruling Edessa. The county at that time did not have a hand in any political problems and was a sound state, living on its own. In 1098, Baldwin of Boulogne was traveling through the states. He was a big name in the crusader army and originally came to Edessa to visit but stayed due to the potential he saw in the small county.
Baldwin somehow convinced Thoros to adopt him as his son, and Baldwin started living in Edessa and was bound to marry Thoros’ daughter, Arda of Armenia. Not long after Baldwin became Thors’ son, Thoros was assassinated on the basis of his Armenian heritage.
Any hand of Baldwin in the assassination has not been proven to date. After Baldwin married Arda and Thoros died, Baldwin succeeded to the throne and became the count of Edessa.
At the same time, Baldwin’s brother, Godfrey of Bouillon, was the king of Jerusalem. In 1100, Godfrey died and Baldwin ascended the throne of Jerusalem. Now Baldwin had two thrones with him, and his wife Arda became the first queen of Jerusalem. Baldwin I could not handle the two thrones and passed the throne of Edessa to his cousin, Baldwin II of Bourcq.
Baldwin II and the County of Edessa
Baldwin II took control of Edessa. He was a true crusader and made the county essentially a crusader state. The County thrived under the rule of Baldwin II because his crusader connections started visiting the county, which led to the beginning of trading and brought much income to the people of Edessa. Baldwin II married an Armenian from Edessa, the daughter of Gabriel of Melitene.
Baldwin II was joined by Joscelin of Courtnay, and the pair became good friends and led their lives in the county. The Christian soldiers and officials became integrated into the life of Edessa, with most of them marrying local Armenian girls from the area.
They took up local names and jobs and left their lives of being a crusader for peace of mind and a stable life. This hit the numbers of the crusader army badly.
Nevertheless, the count of Edessa, Baldwin II, offered new and improved incentives to the soldiers and also offered immunity for their wives in case anything went wrong. Rations were also distributed in the region, which greatly raised the morale of the soldiers, resulting in a whopping amount of Christians signing up for the crusader army.
Conflicts With the Muslim States
After gaining control over Edessa, Baldwin II quickly became active in the wars of the crusades against the Muslims. He was largely involved in the affairs of Syria and Asia, where many battles were fought in the name of religion and much blood was lost.
Baldwin and Joscelin fought each battle together and came out of it together. In the Battle of Hartman in 1104, Edessa was attacked and captured by Mosul, where Baldwin and Joscelin were taken as prisoners and were to be freed only if the hefty ransom was paid.
No one paid for the ransom and the duo remained prisoners for four years and came out in 1108. When they were released, Edessa was already in the hands of Richard of Salerno. Baldwin and Joscelin worked hard together to gain control of their country back and they succeeded. For this purpose, Baldwin made many Muslims his allies, because gaining back control of Edessa would not have been possible otherwise.
Baldwin was settling in very nicely in the role of the Count of Edessa and as the ruler of the first crusader state. He had the support of a huge Frankish army and also the elites of the allies of the Christians around the world. Now that Baldwin had taken control of Edessa and ruled it for more than 18 years, an important development occurred in Jerusalem.
Joscelin: The New Count of Edessa
In 1118, Baldwin I, the king of Jerusalem, died suddenly. He had no eligible wards and did not name anyone after him as the legitimate king of Jerusalem, so the throne of Jerusalem was empty.
By law, the throne must now go to the brother of Baldwin I, Eustace of Boulogne, but Eustace did not want anything to do with the throne or the title as he was a simple man. Baldwin II was then chosen as the new king of Jerusalem, and he gladly accepted the throne.
Baldwin could now rule from a bigger state and he had much more authority and power. Among many things, his connections and allies increased drastically. He was given many honorary awards for the services he did as the count of Edessa. Baldwin established crusader rule in Jerusalem, which was a great victory for the crusaders all around the world.
Capture and Freedom
Baldwin named Joscelin as the new count of Edessa. Baldwin and Joscelin remained close friends and allies and came to each other’s rescue whenever someone needed help. At this time, most of the states near the Euphrates were under Mosul’s control. They were closing in on Edessa and captured it in 1122., where Joscelin was also kidnapped.
Baldwin came to his rescue and was captured too. Joscelin escaped in 1128 and freed Baldwin the following year. The friendship between Joscelin and Baldwin only grew stronger with time. They always came to help when the other needed it.
The Fall of Edessa
In 1144, the Zengis united Mosul and Aleppo under his reign and laid the famous siege of Edessa. Edessa at that time was under the control of Joscelin II. Following the first fall of Edessa, various successful and unsuccessful attempts were made in recapturing the county, but both parties were adamant about keeping it for themselves.
In 1150, Nur ad-din, the son of Zengi, captured Edessa. The state of Edessa was now under Muslim rule. This was the final blow to the dreaded state, and after this capture, no crusader ever took Edessa again. Edessa was the first Crusader state to be formed and the first crusader state to fall.
Demographics of Edessa
Edessa was the largest crusader state of its time, with almost 10,000 inhabitants living there at one time. The county extended from Antioch to the Euphrates river, and it was full of castles and fortresses. It was in the middle of many powerful nations of Muslims and Christians.
The inhabitants were mostly Syriac Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Christians with a minority of Arab Muslims, both Sunnis and Shias. A very small number of Latins of the Roman Catholic Patriarch were also present.
Other than political unrest among the inhabitants of different religions, they sometimes gathered to celebrate each other’s events and festivals. This brought a sense of unity and admiration among the people. However, this was always short-lived because the people were soon reminded of their religious differences by the authorities.
The Second Crusade
The purpose of the first crusade was to spread the word of Jesus Christ and the core values of Christianity, but soon its purpose was changed to gain control over every state surrounding Edessa and suppress every other minority in the region. This was not the basis of the crusades but the egos of the men who took control.
After the fall of Edessa, the first crusade also fell. Now the Christians of France and Great Britain started the second crusade. The second crusade was more powerful and well structured as they had learned from their first mistake. Among many purposes, one of the main purposes of the second crusade was the capture of the holy city of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem had the most importance in the religious history of Muslims and Christians. Both groups fought countless wars over the city and its contents, so when the second crusade started, clear instructions were given to capture Jerusalem and make it a crusader state once and for all.
Edessa and Its Cultures
Edessa was the county where people from very different religious and cultural backgrounds lived together. Sometimes they lived in harmony, but most times, they were at constant territorial wars with each other.
Edessa became the hub of arts, music and literature. Many tourists visited Edessa in search of finding something new and exciting. Festivities and cultural engagements bloomed in Edessa, and no matter the ruler or the ruling religion in the region, the festivities swayed on and the people celebrated them with all they had.
Legacy of the County of Edessa
Edessa will always remain as the first-ever county of the crusaders and also the first country to fall for the sake of crusader-ship. In the current geography of the world, Edessa can be mapped around the area between Turkey and Syria. Both of these countries hold great importance in the world today and it can be anticipated and proved that Edessa was also a very important county in its time.
Here are some of the most important points we discussed in the article above:
- Edessa was the first crusader state.
- Before becoming the crusader state, it was under the kinship of an Armenian Christian king, Thoros.
- Baldwin of Boulogne inherited Edessa after he was adopted by Thoros.
- Throughout the course of history, Edessa has been under the alternating rule of different religious and political powers.
- The county of Edessa fell to Muslim rule in 1144.
It can’t be denied that the County of Edessa played a vastly important role in the history of the Crusades, and the battles it witnessed contributes to the legacy it leaves the world today.