Fifth Crusade
Part of Crusades
Renaissance depiction of the Siege of Damietta
Date 1213-1221
Location Egypt, Levant
Result Decisive Ayyubid victory
  • Eight-year truce between Ayyubids and Crusaders
  • Unrestricted trade with Alexandria
  • Recovered the Tabula Rashida
Flag of France (XII-XIII) Kingdom of France
Flag of Hungary (11th c.-1301) Kingdom of Hungary
Flag of the Papal States (pre 1808) Papal States
Heiliges Römisches Reich - Reichssturmfahne vor 1433 Holy Roman Empire
Coat of arms of Constantinople Latin Empire
Flag of Sultanate of Rum Sultanate of Rum
Cross of the Knights Templar Knights Templar
Flag of Ayyubid Dynasty Ayyubid Sultanate
Commanders and leaders
Coat of arms of Constantinople John of Brienne
Flag of the Papal States (pre 1808) Pope Honorius III

Flag of the Papal States (pre 1808) Pelagius Galvini
Flag of France (XII-XIII) King Philip II
Flag of Hungary (11th c.-1301) King Andrew II
Heiliges Römisches Reich - Reichssturmfahne vor 1433 Emperor Frederick II
Flag of Sultanate of Rum Sultan Kaykavus I
Cross of the Knights Templar Pierre de Montague

Flag of Ayyubid Dynasty Sultan Al-Kamil
Flag of Ayyubid Dynasty Sultan Al-Adid
32,000 unknown
Casualties and losses
10,500 unknown
The Fifth Crusade was an attempt by the Christian nations of Europe to regain the Holy Land from the  Ayyubid Sultanate of Egypt. 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 (1198-1216)

Pope Innocent III started orchestrating a crusade to destroy the Ayyubids andtake 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 out-pour 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 importance. This interest was indispensable in the process of having the Tabula Rashida studied and translated by Polydore Beneventus years later. 


The Fifth Crusade is seen as the founding story of the mainstream scientific field now known as aegyptography, although that term probably wasn't coined for a few centuries. In addition, many enthusiasts of aegyptography grant Pelagius Galvini more credit than he may deserve, as it was never his intention to use the Tabula Rashida for anything more than leverage out of a political failure.

Regardless of his intentions, however, the discovery in the Fifth Crusade is undoubtedly the most important event in the history of aegyptography, if not the the field of historiography in general. After the Tabula was fully translated with the help of Sts. Thomas Acquinas and Albertus Magnus, the door was opened for the transcription and translation of Ancient Egyptian writings. This, coupled with the translation movement of Greek and Roman texts, led to the explosion of classical revivalment known as the Renaissance