12th Century – 7 Historical Events that happened in the 12th Century

The 12th century was defined by a Renaissance of sorts. A side effect of the first Crusades was the contact between European and Byzantium cultures, bringing technologies and luxuries back west, which sparked an appetite for trade and helped stimulate progress. Out east, meanwhile, dynasties rose and fell. Here are 7 historical events that took place in the 12th Century.

The Battle of Didgori (1121)

Following the Great Turkish Invasion, in which the Seljuk dynasty attacked and settled the Georgian lands in the previous century, the Kingdom of Georgia was in crisis. A series of small battles and refusal to pay tribute to the Seljuks led the Georgian king David IV to the Battle of Didgori in 1121. On paper it was a heavily lopsided affair, with David mustering 55,000 Georgian troops and allies, facing against a reported Seljuk army ten times the size. However, using modern military tactics, the tiny Georgian force outsmarted and outmatched the Seljuks, defeating them in the narrow pass of Didgori from which the battle gets its name, running down fleeing troops for days afterward. The battle was followed by David taking Tbilisi, naming it his capital, and the beginning of the Georgian Golden Age.

Jin conquest of Northern China (1125-1142)

The rise of the Jin was significant in that it deposed the 300-year rule of the Song dynasty in Northern China (considered China Proper), and were ancestors to the ruling Qing dynasty 500 years later. The century-long Jin-Song Wars started as an alliance against another ruling dynasty, the Liao, with the goal to reunite China, with the Song’s penciled in to rule. However, after significant Jin success and a string of Song defeats, once with Liao dynasty was defeated, the Jins were reluctant to follow through with their promises. Defeating the Song dynasty over the course of several decades, the Jins took control of Northern China in 1142, sending the Song dynasty south and splintering the country. Also called the Jurchen, the Jin would continue fighting the Song in the south for some time, and became the last dynastic rule before the arrival of Genghis Khan’s Mongol army in the 13th century.

Portugal gains independence (1128)

First King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, who took to the throne in the 12th century.
King Afonso I of Portugal.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Already a semi-autonomous county as of 1096, directly governed by the Kingdom of León (the northwest of modern-day Spain), the Portuguese people longed for independence. After much inner conflict, it was first gained during the 12th century in 1128 following the Battle of São Mamede, in which Afonso Henriques defeated forces of his own mother to gain control of the county. Capturing Lisbon and other areas of southern Portugal from Muslim rule, Afonso was declared King of Portugal in 1139, ratified in 1143 when the defeated Kingdom of León recognized them as an independent state through the Treaty of Zamora. Before the 12th century was out, their independence had its final approval, recognized by the Pope in 1179, and would go on to become a major European power in centuries to come.

English and Norman civil war (1135-1153)

When King Henry I died in 1135, a destructive succession crisis kicked off, known to history as The Anarchy. Henry’s daughter, Empress Matilda, was named heir, but support for her was weak, and Henry’s nephew Stephen of Blois seized the throne. In 1139, Matilda invaded, and the country became splintered, with neither side able to achieve a decisive advantage and powerful barons occupying large portions of the country, refusing to choose aside. In the following decade, Stephen was captured momentarily and Matilda’s husband took Normandy in her name, but both sides grew fatigued. The matter was settled in 1153 during peace negotiations, when Stephen’s son Eustace died, allowing a compromise to be made: Stephen would remain King for now, but Matilda’s son Henry II would be his heir. He didn’t have to wait long, with Stephen dying just a year later.  

The Second and Third Major Crusades (1147-1192)

12th Century Siege of Lisbon
The Siege of Lisbon, 1147.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

After the success of the First Crusade in the final years of the previous century, religious warfare between Christian and Muslim states continued in the twelfth. After the Siege of Edessa in 1144, in which the crusader state was taken by the Zengid dynasty, the kings of France and Germany began the Second Crusade (1147-1150). They took Lisbon in the west from Muslim occupants, but in their main mission in the east, they were squashed by Seljuk Turks. This defeat ultimately led to the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 to Saladin’s forces and sparked the Third Crusade (1189-1192) in which England’s Richard the Lionheart joined the fray. With the goal of retaking Jerusalem, this crusade also ended in failure, with a truce being signed. Within the first few years of the thirteenth century, however, the truce was over and the Crusaders were back.

The formation of the Ayyubid dynasty (1171)

Between the First and Second Crusades, Saladin deposed Fatimid Caliph Al-‘Ādid and formed the Ayyubid dynasty in 1171, becoming the Sultan of Egypt and ruler of land encompassing Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Yemen, and other parts of North Africa. This proved a decisive change and had a significant impact on Islam’s Golden Age, emphasized by their capture of Jerusalem in 1187, after the Battle of Hattin, which was possibly his greatest victory. A thorn in the side of the Crusaders, Saladin would win and lose various battles over the Third Crusade, but ultimately hold Jerusalem and maintain power. The Ayyubid dynasty had a transformative effect on the region, ushering in a new age of intellectual activity and economic prosperity.

Japan’s Genpei War (1180–1185)

12th Century Genpei War
The Genpei War, 1180-1185.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When a dispute on succession arose between the powerful Taira and Minamoto clans, the Emperor’s son Mochihito (who supported the Minamoto) was executed, which triggered a bloody civil war in the 12th century. After initial fighting garnered little change, the pivotal Battle of Kurikara in 1183 sent the Taira clan reeling, and one of Japan’s most famous ever battles, the sea Battle of Dan-no-ura in 1185, finished them off for good. The Genpei War, as the civil war came to be known, marked the importance of the samurai in battle, was the first time Japan’s colors of red and white were flown in battle, and established the shogunate from 1192, with the emperor serving only a nominal role. This feudal state in Japan would last until the Meiji Restoration over 650 years later.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out our other 7 Historical Events that happened in different centuries!


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