It is the year 476 AD, and the eternal city of Rome teeters on the brink of disaster, sacked by a barbarian Germanic tribesman named Odoacer. Rome's last Emperor Romulus is deposed, and the once invincible empire falls. The decadent, beleaguered city plunges into the abyss, and takes the whole of Western Europe with it. What follows are six centuries shrouded in poverty, illiteracy, violence, superstition, and lawlessness. It is a period known to history as the Dark Ages, and for the people left in the wake of the mighty colossus' collapse, the term was an apt one.
A century and a half later, in the holy city of Jerusalem, there is another shift in power. But this one will not be marked by a similar descent into chaos and darkness. Byzantium, the Eastern half of the Roman Empire based in Constantinople, survives intact for another 1000 years. But its fortunes will be inextricably tied to the rise of Islam. In 638 AD, Jerusalem, a Byzantine province, surrenders to caliph Umar I. It will remain in Moslem hands until the end of the 11th century. Even though Islamic rule is comparatively enlightened, the Byzantines long to reclaim the Holy City for Christendom.
In 1095 the ebb and flow of Byzantium's power undergoes a resurgence under Alexius I Comnenus, and he decides it is high time to recover Asian territories lost to the Seldjuk Turks. Despite the rift between his own Eastern Orthodox church and the Western Catholics, he asks them for help. The Pope senses opportunity as well, and what emerges is the First Crusade. Partly as a result of the great march, Western Europe begins to awaken from its isolation. Science, trade, educational opportunities, and cultural exchange seep back into Western civilization, setting the stage for the Renaissance.
In military terms, the First Crusade was a success for the West. Ultimately, the city of Jerusalem, as well as much of Asia Minor and the Levant, were recaptured by the Christians. This would not have happened without the tremendous risks and sacrifices of the crusaders themselves. The leadership of the crusaders, though fractious and unpredictable, rose to extraordinary levels on several occasions, particularly when disaster loomed most ominously. These Catholic nobles would create for themselves feudal fiefdoms in Asia, collectively known as Outremer.
Over 900 years ago, the First Crusade became the first holy war between Christians and the Moslems, but it was not to be the last. Immediately following their creation, the Outremer States came under siege. Within a century Jerusalem had been retaken for Islam by Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria. This brought about further crusades on the part of the Western European Christians to regain the Holy City, none of which were successful. However, this did not end the conflict, eventually entangling Judaism as well. These holy wars, the causes of which are still tied to control of Jerusalem, continue to this day, and include even the terrorist attacks of 9/11.