From to , the Crusaders experienced great success, capturing Cathar lands and perpetrating acts of extreme violence, often against civilians.
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From to , a series of revolts caused many of the lands to be lost. A renewed crusade resulted in the recapturing of the territory and effectively drove Catharism underground by 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.
Because of these efforts, by the middle of the 14th century, any discernible traces of the Cathar movement had been eradicated.
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. Cathars 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.
As such, the Cathars refused to take oaths of allegiance or volunteer for military service. Cathars rejected the Catholic priesthood , labelling its members, including the pope , unworthy and corrupted. Catharism developed its own unique form of "sacrament" known as the consolamentum , to replace the Catholic rite of baptism. Instead of receiving baptism through water, one received the consolamentum by the laying on of hands. Once an individual received the consolamentum , these rules became binding.
After receiving the consolamentum, a believer would sometimes take no food rely only on cold water, eventually resulting in death. The procedure was typically performed only by those close to death already. This did sometimes happen but there is little evidence that it was common practice. Despite Cathar anti-clericalism, there were men selected amongst the Cathars to serve as bishops and deacons.
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The bishops were selected from among the perfect. The Cathars were part of a widespread spiritual reform movement in medieval Europe  which began about when Constantine-Silvanus brought a copy of the Gospels to Armenia. These groups based their beliefs and practices on the Gospels rather than on Church dogma and sought a return to the early church and the faith of the Apostles. They claimed that their teaching was rooted in Scripture and part of Apostolic tradition. Henry of Lausanne criticized the priesthood and called for lay reform of the Church. Although these dissenting groups shared some common features with the Cathars, such as anti-clericalism and rejection the sacraments , they did not, except perhaps the Paulicians and Bogomils, subscribe to Cathar dualist beliefs.
They did not specifically invoke dualism as a tenet. That view is not universally shared. 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,   and the belief was spreading to other areas.
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One such area was Lombardy , which by the s was sustaining a community of Cathars. It has also been viewed as a manifestation of dissatisfaction with papal power. Burnings for heresy had been very uncommon, and in the past had sometimes taken place at the behest of noblemen over the objections of leading Catholic clergy.
After this event however, they grew more frequent. Catharism continued to spread. 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 Church Council which declared the Cathar doctrine heretical was held near Albi.
On becoming Pope in , 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,  who had clear interest in independence from the king. By , he offered to bless those willing to go on a military campaign against the Cathars with the same indulgence given to crusaders travelling to the Holy Land.
However, Philip was engaged in conflict with King John of England , and was unwilling to get involved in a separate conflict in the Languedoc. Hence, the plan stalled. One of the most powerful noblemen, Count Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse , did not openly embrace Cathar beliefs, but was sympathetic to Catharism and its independence movement. He was excommunicated in May and an interdict was placed on his lands. They were under the direction of the senior papal legate, Pierre de Castelnau.
The preachers managed to bring some people back into the Catholic faith, but for the most part, were renounced. On January 13, , Raymond met Pierre in the hope of gaining absolution. The discussion did not go well. Raymond expelled him and threatened his safety. Innocent III claimed that Raymond ordered his execution;  William of Tudela blames the murder entirely on "an evil-hearted squire hoping to win the Count's approval".
Pope Innocent declared Raymond anathematized and released all of his subjects from their oaths of obedience to him.
They exchanged gifts, reconciled,  and the excommunication was lifted. At the Council of Avignon Raymond was again excommunicated for not fulfilling the conditions of ecclesiastical reconciliation. After this, Innocent III called for a crusade against the Albigensians, with the view that a Europe free of heresy could better defend its borders against invading Muslims. By mid, around 10, Crusaders had gathered in Lyon before marching south. A large number came from Northern France,  while some had volunteered from England. Under the command of the papal legate, Arnaud Amalric ,  they started to besiege the city, calling on the Catholics within to come out, and demanding that the Cathars surrender.
The city fell the following day when an abortive sortie was pursued back through the open gates. It was reported that Amalric, when asked how to distinguish Cathars from Catholics, responded, "Kill them all! God will know his own. Amalric and Milo, a fellow legate, in a letter to the Pope, claimed that the Crusaders "put to the sword almost 20, people". The siege did not last long. Raymond Roger sought negotiations but was taken prisoner while under truce, and Carcassonne surrendered on August The people were not killed but were forced to leave the town.
They were naked according to Peter of Vaux-de-Cernay , a monk and eyewitness to many events of the crusade,  but "in their shifts and breeches", according to Guillaume de Puylaurens , a contemporary. Although his death supposedly resulted from dysentery , some suspected that he was assassinated. After the fall of Carcassonne, other towns surrendered without a fight.
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The next battle centred around Lastours and the adjacent castle of Cabaret. Attacked in December , Pierre Roger de Cabaret repulsed the assault. Simon's decision to attack it was probably influenced by the large number of perfects who had gathered there. Unable to take the town by storm because of the surrounding geography,  Simon launched a heavy bombardment against the town, and in late June the main well was destroyed and on July 22, the city, short on water, surrendered.