Christian Antisemitism in Medieval Europe

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  • 0:00 Anti-Semitisim and…
  • 0:52 Medieval Anti-Semitism
  • 3:08 Anti-Semitic Policies
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Medieval Europe was predominantly full of Christian societies, but not all citizens were Christians. In this lesson, we'll talk about anti-Semitic policies and fears that characterize European societies for over a millennium.

Anti-Semitism in Medieval Europe

Have you ever noticed how it can be hard for family members to get along? It's like hey, you're cousins, stop fighting already. Well, individual people aren't the only ones to do this. Judaism and Christianity are historically related, with Christians originally being simply a radical sect of Judaism. However, they haven't always gotten along and in fact, at times this extended from beyond sibling rivalry to instances of extreme violence. The policy of anti-Jewish prejudice is called anti-Semitism and unfortunately, it has been a common feature of European history, particularly during the medieval era. So, why couldn't they just get along? Let's take a look through European history and see where this rivalry began.

Medieval Anti-Semitism

Scholars generally define the medieval period of European history as the 5th to 15th centuries. But to understand the roots of this, we need to go back a little further. For the first several centuries of the Christian church's existence, church leaders had to formally codify all of the official tenants of the faith. In particular, they had to determine what their relationship was with Judaism, the religion from which Christianity derived. By roughly the 5th century, the church came to the conclusion that all Jews were to blame for the crucifixion of Christ. Not just the Roman appointed Hebrew political leaders of Judea.

Furthermore, the early Christian leaders decided that Jewish history demonstrated that the Jews had lost favor with God and were being punished for not embracing Christ. That explained why the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple in 70 C.E. and why the Jews were expelled from Judea in the 2nd century C.E. These decisions were the basis of anti-Semitism in Europe.

After the Jews were kicked out of Judea, many populations moved across Europe, where they became minorities in Christian cities. The Christian populations tended to see the Jews as outsiders, as being different, and the Jewish populations were highly marginalized throughout most of Medieval Europe. This was especially true because of several events that led Christians to feel like their faith was being threatened:

  • Muslim armies invaded Spain in 711 C.E.
  • The Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches split in 1054 C.E.
  • European kingdoms fought Holy Crusades for control of the Holy Lands

Throughout all of these, protecting Christianity was a top priority and as Jews refused to assimilate, Christian communities further saw them as outsiders and even as being dangerous, leading to rumors that Jews drank the blood of Christians and worshipped the anti-Christ. In fact, Jews ended up being blamed for pretty much anything that went wrong, from a single year of failed crops, to the Bubonic plague. The result? In times of stress, many Christian communities instituted pogroms, extremely violent and deadly riots against Jews.

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