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The Albigensian Crusade or the Cathar Crusade (1209–1229) was a 20-year military campaign initiated by Pope Innocent III to eliminate Catharism in Languedoc, in southern France. The Crusade was prosecuted primarily by the French crown and promptly took on a political flavour, resulting in not only a significant reduction in the number of practising Cathars, but also a realignment of the County of Toulouse in Languedoc, bringing it into the sphere of the French crown and diminishing the distinct regional culture and high level of influence of the Counts of Barcelona.

Albigensian Crusade
Part of the Crusades
Cartes Occitanie.png
Map of Languedoc on the eve
of the Albigensian Crusade
Date 1209–1244
Location Languedoc, France
Result Crusader victory


Papal States
Kingdom of France

County of Toulouse

Crown of Aragon
Commanders and leaders

Simon de Montfort
Amaury VI of Montfort
Philip II of France

Louis VIII of France

Raymond Roger Trencavel
Raymond VI of Toulouse
Raymond VII of Toulouse

Peter II of Aragon 
Casualties and losses
At least 200,000[1] to at most 1,000,000[2] Cathars killed
Considered by many historians to be an act of genocide against the Cathars, including the coiner of the word genocide himself Raphael Lemkin[3][4]

The medieval Christian radical sect of the Cathars, against whom the crusade was directed, originated from an anti-materialist reform movement within the Bogomil churches of Dalmatia and Bulgaria calling for a return to the Christian message of perfection, poverty and preaching, combined with a rejection of the physical to the point of starvation. The reforms were a reaction against the often scandalous and dissolute lifestyles of the Catholic clergy in southern France. Their theology, neo-Gnostic in many ways, was basically dualist. Several of their practices, especially their belief in the inherent evil of the physical world, conflicted with the doctrines of the Incarnation of Christ and sacraments, initiated accusations of Gnosticism and brought them the ire of the Catholic establishment. They became known as the Albigensians, because there were many adherents in the city of Albi and the surrounding area in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Between 1022 and 1163, the Cathars were condemned by eight local church councils, the last of which, held at Tours, declared that all Albigenses should be put into prison and have their property confiscated. The Third Lateran Council of 1179 repeated the condemnation.[5] Innocent III's diplomatic attempts to roll back Catharism met with little success. After the murder of his legate, Pierre de Castelnau, in 1208, Innocent III declared a crusade against the Cathars. He offered the lands of the Cathar heretics to any French nobleman willing to take up arms.

From 1209 to 1215, the Crusaders experienced grand success, capturing Cathar lands and perpetrating incidents of extreme violence. From 1215 to 1225, a series of revolts caused many of the lands to be lost. A renewed crusade resulted in the recapturing of the territory and effective destruction of Catharism by 1244. The Albigensian Crusade also had a role in the creation and institutionalization of both the Dominican Order and the Medieval Inquisition. The Dominicans promulgated the message of the Church to combat alleged heresies by preaching the Church's teachings in towns and villages, while the Inquisition investigated heresies.


Cathar theologyEdit

Derived in part from earlier forms of Gnosticism, the theology of the Cathars was dualistic, a belief in two equal and comparable transcendental principles: God, the force of good, and the demiurge, the force of evil. They held that the physical world was evil and created by this demiurge, which they called Rex Mundi (Latin, "King of the World"). Rex Mundi encompassed all that was corporeal, chaotic and powerful. The Cathar understanding of God was entirely disincarnate: they viewed God as a being or principle of pure spirit and completely unsullied by the taint of matter. He was the God of love, order and peace. Jesus was an angel with only a phantom body, and the accounts of him in the New Testament were to be understood allegorically. As the physical world and the human body were the creation of the evil principle, sexual abstinence (even in marriage) was encouraged.[6][7][8] Civil authority had no claim on a Cathar, since this was the rule of the physical world. As such, the Cathars refused to take oaths of allegiance or volunteer for military service.[9]

Cathars rejected the Catholic priesthood, labeling its members, including the pope, unworthy and corrupted.[10] Disagreeing on the Catholic concept of the unique role of the priesthood, they taught that anyone, not just the priest, could consecrate the Eucharistic host or hear a confession.[11] Cathars insisted on it being the responsibility of the individual to develop a relationship with God, independent of an established clergy. On baptism, Cathars claimed that the sacrament should only be given to adults. Cathars regarded baptism not as a sign of God's grace, to be bestowed on anyone, but as necessitating the conscious decision of an adult.[12]

Catharism also developed its own unqiue form of "sacrament" known as the consolamentum, which involved the laying on of hands.[13] The act was typically received just before death, as Cathars believed that this increased one's chances for salvation by wiping away all previous sins.[14] After taking the sacrament, the recipient became known as perfectus.[15]

Initial history of the CatharsEdit

By the 12th century, organized groups of dissidents, such as the Waldensians and Cathars, were beginning to appear in the towns and cities of newly urbanized areas. In western Mediterranean France, one of the most urbanized areas of Europe at the time, the Cathars grew to represent a popular mass movement,[16][17] and the belief was spreading to other areas. One such area was Lombardy, which by the 1170s was sustaining a community of Cathars.[18]

This Pedro Berruguete work of the 15th century depicts a story of Saint Dominic and the Albigensians, in which the texts of each were cast into a fire, but only Saint Dominic's proved miraculously resistant to the flames.

Cathar theology found its greatest success in the Languedoc. The Cathars were known as Albigensians because of their association with the city of Albi, and because the 1176 Church Council which declared the Cathar doctrine heretical was held near Albi.[19][20] In Languedoc, political control and land ownership was divided among many local lords and heirs.[21][22] Before the crusade there was little fighting in the area and it had a fairly sophisticated polity. Western Mediterranean France itself was at that time divided between the Crown of Aragon and the County of Toulouse.

On becoming Pope in 1198, Innocent III resolved to deal with the Cathars and sent a delegation of friars to the province of Languedoc to assess the situation. The Cathars of Languedoc were seen as not showing proper respect for the authority of the French king or the local Catholic Church, and their leaders were being protected by powerful nobles,[23] who had clear interest in independence from the king.[24]

One of the most powerful, Count Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, openly supported the Cathars and their independence movement. He refused to assist the delegation. He was excommunicated in May 1207 and an interdict was placed on his lands. The senior papal legate, Pierre de Castelnau, seen as responsible for these actions, was killed. His death was attributed to supporters of the count. This brought down more penalties on Count Raymond, but he soon agreed to reconcile with the Church and the excommunication was lifted. At the Council of Avignon (1209) Raymond was again excommunicated for not fulfilling the conditions of ecclesiastical reconciliation.[5] King Philip II of France decided to act against those nobles who permitted Catharism within their lands and undermined secular authority. Though the actual crusade lasted only two months, the internal conflict between the north and the south of France continued for some twenty years.

Military campaignsEdit

Initial success 1209 to 1215Edit

By mid-1209, around 10,000 crusaders had gathered in Lyon before marching south.[25] The crusaders turned towards Montpellier and the lands of Raymond-Roger de Trencavel, aiming for the Cathar communities around Albi and Carcassonne. Like Raymond of Toulouse, Raymond-Roger sought an accommodation with the crusaders, but he was refused a meeting and raced back to Carcassonne to prepare his defences.[26]

Massacre at BéziersEdit

The crusaders captured the small village of Servian and then headed for Béziers, arriving on July 21, 1209. Under the command of the papal legate, Arnaud Amalric,[27] they started to besiege the city, calling on the Catholics within to come out, and demanding that the Cathars surrender.[28] Both groups refused. The city fell the following day when an abortive sortie was pursued back through the open gates.[29] The entire population was slaughtered and the city burned to the ground. Contemporary sources give estimates of the number of dead ranging between 15,000 and 20,000. The latter figure appears in Arnaud Amalric's report to the Pope. The news of the disaster quickly spread and afterwards many settlements surrendered without a fight.

Fall of CarcassonneEdit

Carcassonne, préfecture of the department traversed by the Aude river

After the Massacre at Béziers, the next major target was Carcassonne. The city was well fortified, but vulnerable, and overflowing with refugees.[30] The crusaders arrived on August 1, 1209. The siege did not last long.[31] By August 7 they had cut the city's water supply. Raymond-Roger sought negotiations but was taken prisoner while under truce, and Carcasonne surrendered on 15 August.[32] The people were not killed, but were forced to leave the town. They were naked according to Peter of les Vaux de Cernay, who was an eyewitness to many events of the crusade, but "in their shifts and breeches" according to Guillaume de Puylaurens, a fellow contemporary.[33] Simon de Montfort, a prominent French nobleman, was then appointed leader of the Crusader army,[34] and was granted control of the area encompassing Carcassonne, Albi, and Béziers. After the fall of Carcassonne, other towns surrendered without a fight: Albi, Castelnaudary, Castres, Fanjeaux, Limoux, Lombers and Montréal all fell quickly during the autumn.[35]

Lastours and the castle of CabaretEdit

The next battle centred around Lastours and the adjacent castle of Cabaret. Attacked in December 1209, Pierre Roger de Cabaret repulsed the assault.[36] Fighting largely halted over the winter, but fresh crusaders arrived.[37] In March 1210, Bram was captured after a short siege.[38] In June the well-fortified city of Minerve was besieged.[39] It withstood a heavy bombardment, but in late June the main well was destroyed and on July 22, the city surrendered.[40] The Cathars were given the opportunity to return to Catholicism. Most did. The 140 who refused were burned at the stake.[41] In August the crusade proceeded to the stronghold of Termes.[42] Despite sallies from Pierre-Roger de Cabaret, the siege was solid, and in December the town fell.[43] It was the last action of the year.

By the time operations resumed in 1211, the actions of Arnaud-Amaury and Simon de Montfort had alienated several important lords, including Raymond de Toulouse,[44] who had been excommunicated again. The crusaders returned in force to Lastours in March and Pierre-Roger de Cabaret soon agreed to surrender. In May the castle of Aimery de Montréal was retaken; he and his senior knights were hanged, and several hundred Cathars were burned.[45] Cassès[46] and Montferrand[47] both fell easily in early June and the crusaders headed for Toulouse.[48] The town was besieged, but for once the attackers were short of supplies and men, and Simon de Montfort withdrew before the end of the month.[49] Emboldened, Raymond de Toulouse led a force to attack Montfort at Castelnaudary in September.[50] Montfort broke free from the siege[51] but Castelnaudary fell and Raymond's forces went on to liberate over thirty towns[52] before the counter-attack ground to a halt at Lastours, in the autumn.[53]


The Cathars now faced a difficult situation. To repel the Crusaders, they turned to Peter II of Aragon for assistance. A favorite of the Catholic Church, Peter II had been crowned king by Innocent III in 1204. He fought the Moors in Spain, and served in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa.[54] However, his sister, Eleanor, had married Raymond VI, securing an alliance.[55] He then decided to come to the aid of Toulouse.[56] The Crown of Aragon, under Peter II, allied with the County of Toulouse and various other entities. This force engaged Simon's troops on September 12 in the Battle of Muret. The Crusaders were heavily outnumbered, but nonetheless prevailed. Peter II was struck down and killed.[57][58] The Albigensian army, hearing of his death, fled. This allowed Simon's troops to occupy the northern part of Toulouse.[59]

It was a serious blow for the resistance, and in 1214 the situation became worse. As the Crusaders continued their advance, Raymond was forced to flee to England,[60] and his lands were given by the pope to the victorious Philip II, a stratagem which finally succeeded in interesting the king in the conflict. In November, Simon de Montfort entered Périgord[61] and easily captured the castles of Domme[62] and Montfort;[63] he also occupied Castlenaud and destroyed the fortifications of Beynac.[64] In 1215, Castelnaud was recaptured by Montfort,[65] and the Crusaders entered Toulouse. Toulouse was gifted to Montfort.[66]

The yellow cross worn by Cathar repentants

Revolts and reverses 1216 to 1225Edit

However, Raymond, together with his son, returned to the region in April 1216 and soon raised a substantial force from disaffected towns. Beaucaire was besieged in May and fell after three months; the efforts of Montfort to relieve the town were repulsed. Montfort then had to put down an uprising in Toulouse before heading west to capture Bigorre, but he was repulsed at Lourdes in December 1216. In September 12, 1217, Raymond retook Toulouse without a fight while Montfort was occupied in the Foix region. Montfort hurried back, but his forces were insufficient to retake the town before campaigning halted. Montfort renewed the siege in the spring of 1218. While attempting to fend off a sally by the defenders, Montfort was struck and killed by a stone hurled from defensive siege equipment. Toulouse was held, and the Crusaders driven back. Popular accounts state that the city's artillery was operated by the women and girls of Toulouse.[67]

Cathars being expelled from Carcassonne in 1209

Innocent III died in July 1216 and with Montfort now dead, the crusade was left in temporary disarray. The command passed to the more cautious Philip II of France, who according to contemporary accounts was more concerned with Toulouse than heresy. The Crusaders had taken Belcaire and besieged Marmande in late 1218 under Amaury de Montfort, son of the late Simon. While Marmande fell on June 3, 1219, attempts to retake Toulouse failed, and a number of Montfort holds also fell. In 1220, Castelnaudary was retaken from Montfort. He again besieged the town in July 1220, but it withstood an eight-month assault. In 1221, the success of Raymond and his son continued: Montréal and Fanjeaux were retaken and many Catholics were forced to flee. In 1222, Raymond died and was succeeded by his son, also named Raymond. In 1223, Philip II died and was succeeded by Louis VIII. In 1224, Amaury de Montfort abandoned Carcassonne. The son of Raymond-Roger de Trencavel returned from exile to reclaim the area. Montfort offered his claim to the lands of Languedoc to Louis VIII, who accepted.

French royal interventionEdit

In November 1225, at a Council of Bourges, Raymond VII, like his father, was excommunicated. The council gathered a thousand churchmen to authorize a tax on their annual incomes, the "Albigensian tenth", to support the crusade, though permanent reforms intended to fund the papacy in perpetuity foundered.[68] Louis VIII headed the new crusade into the area in June 1226. Fortified towns and castles surrendered without resistance. However, Avignon, nominally under the rule of the German emperor, did resist, and it took a three-month siege to force its surrender that September. Louis VIII died in November and was succeeded by the child king Louis IX. But Queen-regent Blanche of Castile allowed the crusade to continue under Humbert V de Beaujeu. Labécède fell in 1227 and Vareilles in 1228. While besieging Toulouse, the crusaders systematically laid waste to the surrounding landscape: uprooting vineyards, burning fields and farms, slaughtering livestock.[69] Raymond did not have the manpower to intervene. Eventually Queen Blanche offered Raymond a treaty recognizing him as ruler of Toulouse in exchange for his fighting the Cathars, returning all church property, turning over his castles and destroying the defenses of Toulouse. Moreover, Raymond had to marry his daughter Joan to Louis' brother Alphonse, with the couple and their heirs obtaining Toulouse after Raymond's death, and the inheritance reverting to the king in the event that they did not have issue, as eventually proved to be the case. Raymond agreed and signed the Treaty of Paris at Meaux on April 12, 1229. He was then seized, whipped and briefly imprisoned.

After 1229Edit

The Inquisition was established in 1234 to uproot the remaining Cathars. Operating in the south at Toulouse, Albi, Carcassonne and other towns during the whole of the 13th century, and a great part of the 14th, it succeeded in crushing Catharism as a popular movement and driving its remaining adherents underground.[70] Punishments for Cathars varied greatly. Most frequently, they were made to wear yellow crosses atop their garments as a sign of outward penance. Others made pilgrimages, which often included fighting against Muslims. Cathars who were slow to repent suffered imprisonment and, often, the loss of property. Others who altogether refused to repent were burned.[71]

From May 1243 to March 1244, the Cathar fortress of Montségur was besieged by the troops of the seneschal of Carcassonne and Pierre Amiel, the Archbishop of Narbonne.[72] On March 16, 1244, a large massacre took place, in which over 200 Cathar Perfects were burnt in an enormous pyre at the prat dels cremats ("field of the burned") near the foot of the castle.[73]


Pope Innocent III excommunicating the Albigensians (left). Massacre against the Albigensians by the crusaders (right).

Raphael Lemkin, who in the 20th century coined the word genocide,[74] referred to the Albigensian Crusade as "one of the most conclusive cases of genocide in religious history."[3]

Mark Gregory Pegg writes that "The Albigensian Crusade ushered genocide into the West by linking divine salvation to mass murder, by making slaughter as loving an act as His sacrifice on the cross."[4] Robert E. Lerner argues that Pegg's classification of the Albigensian Crusade as a genocide is inappropriate, on the grounds that it "was proclaimed against unbelievers... not against a 'genus' or people; those who joined the crusade had no intention of annihilating the population of southern France... If Pegg wishes to connect the Albigensian Crusade to modern ethnic slaughter, well—words fail me (as they do him)."[75] Laurence Marvin is not as dismissive as Lerner regarding Pegg's contention that the Albigensian Crusade was a genocide; he does however take issue with Pegg's argument that the Albigensian Crusade formed an important historical precedent for later genocides including the Holocaust.[76]

Kurt Jonassohn and Karin Solveig Björnson describe the Albigensian Crusade as "the first ideological genocide."[77] Kurt Jonassohn and Frank Chalk (who together founded the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies) include a detailed case study of the Albigensian Crusade in their genocide studies textbook The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies, authored by Joseph R. Strayer and Malise Ruthven.[78]


  1. ^ Tatz & Higgins 2016, p. 214.
  2. ^ Robertson 1902, p. 254.
  3. ^ a b Lemkin 2012, p. 71.
  4. ^ a b Pegg 2008, p. 195.
  5. ^ a b Weber, Nicholas. "Albigenses." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 14 Oct. 2013
  6. ^ Cross & Livingstone 2005, p. 303.
  7. ^ Peter Lock, The Routledge Companion to the Crusades (Routledge 2013 ISBN 978-1-13513137-1), pp. 162-164
  8. ^ Nicholson 2004, pp. 164-166.
  9. ^ Nicholson 2004, pp. 56-57.
  10. ^ Costen 1997, p. 59.
  11. ^ Costen 1997, p. 60.
  12. ^ Costen 1997, p. 54.
  13. ^ Costen 1997, p. 67.
  14. ^ Costen 1997, p. 68.
  15. ^ Barber 2014, p. 78.
  16. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 5.
  17. ^ CCA §2
  18. ^ Costen 1997, pp. 60-61.
  19. ^ Mosheim 1867, p. 385.
  20. ^ See also the Third Lateran Council, 1179
  21. ^ Costen 1997, p. 26.
  22. ^ Graham-Leigh 2005, p. 42.
  23. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, pp. 8-9.
  24. ^ Graham-Leigh 2005, p. 6.
  25. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 84.
  26. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 88.
  27. ^ Costen 1997, p. 121.
  28. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 89.
  29. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, pp. 90-91.
  30. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, pp. 92-93.
  31. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, pp. 94-96.
  32. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 98.
  33. ^ Guillaume de Puylaurens 2003, p. 34.
  34. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, pp. 101.
  35. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, pp. 108-113.
  36. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 114.
  37. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 115-140.
  38. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 142.
  39. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 151.
  40. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 154.
  41. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 156.
  42. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 168.
  43. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, pp. 169-189.
  44. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 194.
  45. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 215.
  46. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 233.
  47. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 235.
  48. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 239.
  49. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 243.
  50. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, pp. 253-265.
  51. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, pp. 273-276, 279.
  52. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, pp. 266, 278.
  53. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, pp. 286-366.
  54. ^ Barber 2014, p. 63.
  55. ^ Barber 2014, p. 54.
  56. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, pp. 367-466.
  57. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 463.
  58. ^ Wolff & Hazard 1969, p. 302.
  59. ^ Nicholson 2004, p. 62.
  60. ^ PL §XXV
  61. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, pp. 528-534.
  62. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 529.
  63. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 530.
  64. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, pp. 533-534.
  65. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, p. 569.
  66. ^ Peter of les Vaux de Cernay 1998, pp. 554-559, 573.
  67. ^ Paul MEYER, La Chanson de la Croisade Contre les Albigeois Commencée par Guillaume de Tudèle et Continuée par un Poète Anonyme Éditée et Traduite Pour la Societe de L'Histoire de France'TOME SECOND', 1879, p 419
  68. ^ Richard Kay, The Council of Bourges, 1225: A Documentary History (Brookfield, Vermont: Ashgate) 2002.
  69. ^ Zoe Oldenbourg. Massacre at Montsegur. A History of the Albigensian Crusade. (1961). Phoenix, 2006. p. 215. ISBN 1-84212-428-5. 
  70. ^ Sumption 1978, pp. 230–232.
  71. ^ Costen 1997, p. 173.
  72. ^ Sumption 1978, pp. 238-40.
  73. ^ Sumption 1978, pp. 238–40.
  74. ^ "Lemkin, Raphael". UN Refugee Agency. Retrieved July 30, 2017. 
  75. ^ Lerner, Robert E. (2010). "A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom (review)". Common Knowledge. 16 (2): 292. 
  76. ^ Marvin, Laurence W. (October 2009). "A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom (review).". The Catholic Historical Review. 95 (4): 801–802. doi:10.1353/cat.0.0546. 
  77. ^ Kurt Jonassohn; Karin Solveig Björnson. Genocide and Gross Human Rights Violations: In Comparative Perspective. Transaction Publishers. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-4128-2445-3. The Albigensian Crusade was the first ideological genocide and it is included here because it gave rise to the Inquistion–an instutiton which developed many of the techniques of persecution that are still in wide use today. 
  78. ^ Frank Robert Chalk; Kurt Jonassohn; Institut montréalais des études sur le génocide (1990). The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies. Yale University Press. pp. 114–138. ISBN 978-0-300-04446-1. 


Further readingEdit

  • LeRoy Ladurie, Emmanuel (1978). Montaillou, an Occitan Village 1294-1324. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-005471-5. 
  • Mann, Judith (2002). The Trail of Gnosis: A Lucid Exploration of Gnostic Traditions. Gnosis Traditions Press. ISBN 1-4348-1432-7. 
  • Strayer, Joseph R (1992) [1971]. The Albigensian Crusades. The University of Michigan Press. 
  • Weis, René (2001). The Yellow Cross, the Story of the Last Cathars 1290-1329. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-027669-6. 
  • Marvin, Laurence (2008). The Occitan War: A Military and Political History of the Albigensian Crusade, 1209-1218. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-12365-5. 

External linksEdit