Alternate History

Fifth Crusade (Many Wonderful Things)

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The Fifth Crusade was an attempt by the Christian nations of Europe to regain the Holy Land from the  Ayyubid Sultanate of Egypt.


Renaissance depiction of the Siege of Damietta

 It was first called by Pope Innocent III, but wasn't seen through until the Papacy of Honorius III. The entire crusade lasted from 1213-1221, and was primarily led by France, Hungary, the Papal States, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Latin Empire, along with an alliance with the Turkish Sultanate of Rum starting in 1218. Although the crusaders took Damietta and Alexandria, they were unable to reach Cairo. In the end, the crusaders failed to liberate the Holy Land or keep their holdings in Egypt. However, they did pick up many artifacts from Alexandria such as the legendary Tabula Rashida.

Background and Preparations

Pope Innocent III started orchestrating a crusade to destroy the Ayyubids and

Pope Innocent III (1198-1216)

take the Holy Land in 1208. In 1213, he issued a bull calling the crusade and a Ecumenical Council to organize it. The Fourth Lateran Council was held in 1215, ensuring the Pope as in charge of the endeavor and prevent the mistakes of the Fourth Crusade in 1204.

This campaign was preached in France by Robert Courcon, to which King Philip II responded. Not much help could be offered, however, as France was in the process of rooting out the heresy of the Cathari in Europe. Oliver Cologne preached in Germany, and got the attention of Emperor Frederick II. The Pope, however, was not very interested in Frederick's aid, and invited King Andrew II of Hungary to counter-balance Germany. Oliver later allied with Sultan Keykavus I of Rum in eastern Anatolia in 1218. John Brienne, the King of Jerusalem and later Emperor of the Latins, also joined in the crusade around the same time.

The crusaders were all scheduled to group at the city of Brindisi, Naples in 1216. Innocent III died before this, however, so the remainder of the campaign was led by Honorius III, who sent Cardinal Pelagius Galvini on his behalf.

Campaign in the Levant

The eastern forces gathered in Split in august of 1217, and came under the leadership of Andrew II. They invaded Syria in October that year, landing near the city of Acre. Jerusalem was taken quickly, but the city had been sabotaged by the Muslims to prevent it from being defensible. They then defeated Sultan Al-Adid at Bethsaida in November, but was unable to take the fortifications at Tabor. Eventually Andrew fell sick, and returned to Hungary in February of 1218. In August Al-Adid also grew sick and died, and was succeeded by Sultan Al-Kamil.

Campaign in Egypt


Egypt itself was invaded by the crusaders in July of 1218, and in August took the garrison near Damietta with a combined force of 35,000 men led by the Genoese Admiral Simon Doria. They reached a standstill to Al-Kamil's forces of 70,000 men for several months, resulting in the spread of diseases on both sides. With Kaykavus' Turkish forces attacking from the north, however, Al-Kamil diverted much resources to defend Syria. Pelagius Galvini and John Brienne arrived at different points in 1219 to regroup the troops and invade the city, which finally capitulated in November.

Alexandria and Cairo

After John Brienne arrived in the spring of 1220, there was a brief dispute over who should govern over the city. In May,
Battle of Lepanto 1571

Crusader ships fill the harbor of Alexandria

they decided to divide the army in half, with 15,000 men led by Pelagius to move towards Alexandria and the rest to remain behind under John. Pelagius made sure to stay near the coast in order to keep the Dutch fleet to his flank. The Crusaders camped at the cities of Deshuq and later Rashida during the summer of 1220, and finally took Alexandria in November with little resistence. The Papal-run party msotly raided these cities of any relics of seemingly-historical value, in the hope of reclaiming some treasures from Classical Antiquity. It is generally accepted that the mostly historical Tabula Rashida was discovered in June of this campaign. The whole army returned to Damietta in spring of the following year. 

After seeing Pelagius's success, John Brienne led his forces to march on Cairo itself in July of 1221. However, the Nile flooding that summer cut off the Crusaders from reaching the city, long enough for Al-Kamil to return from having defeated Kaykavus in Syria. After suffering a disasterous night attack in the desert, the Europeans were completely surrounded and captured by the Ayyubbids. 


The terms of surrender in September of 1221 meant relinquishing Damietta in exchange for releasing the prisoners,
Ruins of mudbrick buildings on the northern mound of Buto-Desouk

Second Age ruins near the area where Pelagius encamped

as well as agreeing to an eight-year truce in exchange of certain holy relics. One lasting benefit of note was the Papal States securing unrestricted access to the ports of Alexandria, or what was left of the ancient city.

The failure of the Crusade to secure the Holy Land caused an outpour of anti-papal sentiment among the court of Emperor Frederick II. Pelagius attempted to diffuse these accusations by claiming the relics he obtained from Alexandria were of key religious, if not mystical importence. This interest was indespensible in the process of having the Tabula Rashida studied and translated by Polydore Beneventus years later. 


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