Historiography of the Crusades

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The historiography of the crusades has been a controversial topic since at least the Protestant Reformation. The term croisades was first used to refer to the entire period from the First Crusade until the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in French historiography of the 17th century.[1] The 18th-century Enlightenment ideology as represented by Edward Gibbon and Voltaire held up the crusades as an example of medieval barbarism, while 19th-century Romantic nationalism tended to paint them in a heroic light, surrounding the crusades with an aura of romance and grandeur, of chivalry and courage.[2] In the second half of the 20th century, western historiography again tended to be more critical of the crusades, following Steven Runciman (1951–4). Popular opinion, influenced by general trends of decolonisation and critical theory tended to portray the crusades with a sense of "western guilt".[3] In early 21st literature, a "pluralist" view has become common which tends to generalize the concept of the crusades to include other medieval military campaigns authorized by the church, such as the Northern Crusades, the Albigensian Crusade or the Reconquista.[4]

In Eastern Orthodoxy, the crusades had always been viewed in light of the disastrous attack on Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade. In the Islamic world, the crusades were mostly ignored prior to the growth of Arab nationalism in the 20th century.[5]

Medieval historiography[edit]

Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (1122–1190) as a crusader. Dedicatory image (c. 1188) in a manuscript of the Historia Hierosolymitana by Robert the Monk (written c. 1122).

The relevant medieval historiography of the period is edited in Recueil des historiens des croisades (RHC, 1841–1906). The RHC is divided into five series: 1. Lois ("Laws", i.e. the Assizes of Jerusalem), 2. Historiens occidentaux ("Western historians", i.e. texts in Latin and Old French), 3. Historiens orientaux ("Eastern historians", i.e. Arabic texts), 4.. Historiens grecs ("Greek historians") and 5. Historiens arméniens ("Armenian historians")

Important western histories include the Gesta Francorum, William of Tyre's Historia Ierosolimitana, Peter Tudebode, Raymond of Aguilers, Fulcher of Chartes, Gesta Tancredi, Robert the Monk, Baldric of Dol, Albert of Aachen, Ekkehard of Aura, Caffaro di Rustico da Caschifellone, Walter the Chancellor, Benedetto Accolti the Elder. Greek Orthodox historians: Michael Psellos, Anna Komnene, John Kinnamos, Niketas Choniates, Nicephorus Gregoras, George Acropolites. The Eastern Orthodox view of the Crusades is dominated by the sack of Constantinople and the establishment of the Frankokratia in the Fourth Crusade in 1204. While the First Crusade was declared upon the request of the Byzantine Emperor, and concluded in triumphal success, the Crusades as a whole resulted in the terminal decline of the Byzantine Empire. Although the Byzantine Emperors were restored in 1260, the empire could never fully recover until eventually, weakened by civil wars, it fell to the Ottomans in 1453.[citation needed]

Armenian historians: Matthew of Edessa (d. 1144), Nerses Shnorhali (d. 1173), Michael the Syrian (d. 1199), Kirakos Gandzaketsi (d. 1271), Nerses of Lambron (d. 1198), Sempad the Constable (d. 1276), Hayton of Corycus (fl. 1307).

Relevant eastern (Muslim) historiographies include works by Ali ibn al-Athir (d. 1233), Baha ad-Din ibn Shaddad (d. 1234), Abd al-Latif (d. 1231), Ibn Jubayr (d. 1217), Ibn Khallikan (d. 1282), Abu al-Feda (d. 1331). Contemporary Muslim historiographers such as Ali ibn al-Athir refer to the Crusades as the "Frankish Wars" (حروب الفرنجة). The term used in modern Arabic, حملات صليبية ḥamalāt ṣalībiyya, lit. "campaigns of the cross" is a loan translation of the term crusade as used in Western historiography.[6] Later Muslim historiography did not focus on the Crusades as a single or coherent event. One main reason for this is that the Crusades in retrospect figure as more of a marginal issue compared to the final collapse of the Caliphate under the Mongol invasions and the eventual replacement of Arab rule by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which suppressed Arab nationalism for the following seven centuries.[7] The end of the "Islamic Golden Age" was thus only partially due to the Crusades, and more so to the Turkic and Mongol expansions. According to modern historians of Islamic history such as Murphy (1976) and Mansfield (2003), the collapse of the Caliphate led to the development of "intellectual barriers" and "isolationist policies" in the Muslim world.[8]

Notable contemporary accounts by Jewish authors include the Solomon bar Simson Chronicle (c. 1140), the chronicle of Eliezer bar Nathan (d. 1170), the Mainz Anonymous, and the works of Ephraim of Bonn (d. 1200).

Modern historiography[edit]

Influential historiographical works on the Crusades include:

The popular prevailing view in the nineteenth and early twentieth century originated in the writings of the Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott and the French historian Joseph-Francois Michaud. Scott published four crusade based novels between 1819 and 1831. Influenced by the Enlightenment and the philosopher-historian William Robertson, Scott's view was the crusades were the incursions of glamorous but uneducated western Europeans into a superior civilization. Michaud published his influential Histoire des croisades between 1812 and 1822 depicting the crusades as glorious instruments of nationalism and proto-imperialism. These incompatible views agreed only on a crusade was defined by its opposition to Islam, but began to merge in the 1920s as crusading began to be interpreted in social and economic terms by Liberal economic historians within an imperialist context assuming that crusading was an early example of colonialism. So Scott's Enlightenment inferior culture attacking a more sophisticated culture mixed with Michaud's Romantic proto-colonialist conviction. By the 1950s this established a neo-imperialistic and materialistic orthodoxy that remains the popular perceptions.[9]

Steven Runciman's three volume History of the Crusades (1951–54) marks a turn from the idealization of the Crusades as heroic enterprise in the 19th century to their denunciation as "a barbarian invasion", primarily of the Byzantine Empire, among a current of historiography of the second half of the 20th century.[10] Peters (2011) says that Runciman's work "instantly became the most widely known and respected single-author survey of the subject in English."[11] Madden (2005) stresses the impact of Runciman's style and viewpoint: as having "single-handedly crafted the current popular concept of the crusades" by painting the crusaders as "simpletons or barbarians". [12] An attempt at an updated account of the period was presented by Christopher Tyerman with his God's War: A New History of the Crusades (2006).[13]

Secular critics of the crusades[clarification needed] has paralleled the Crusades with the Islamic concept of jihad as comparable approaches to a religious justification of war.[14] The opposing position[by whom?] emphasizes the offensive nature of Islamic jihad as opposed to the intrinsically defensive nature of the Crusades as a project to re-conquer territory lost to the Islamic expansion.[15] This debate has taken place in the context of contemporary Jihadism and the US 2003 invasion of Iraq.[16]

James Illston says "the field of medieval gender studies is a growing one, and nowhere is this expansion more evident than the recent increase in studies which address the roles of medieval women in times of war....this change in research has been invaluable." He provides a 20-page bibliography of dozens of recent scholarly books and articles, most of them connected to the crusades.[17]

Apart from the technical scholarship, a plethora of popular treatments have appeared in the early 21st century. Thomas Madden has discussed modern misconceptions about the Crusades that appear in nonscholarly writings.[18]

In Jewish historiography, the Crusades are mostly seen in the context of their being accompanied by the first displays of antisemitism in medieval Europe. The social position of the Jews in western Europe was distinctly worsened, and legal restrictions increased during and after the Crusades.[19]

Popular reception[edit]

Middle Ages[edit]

The crusades and their leaders were romanticized in popular literature of the late medieval period; the Chanson d'Antioche was a chanson de geste dealing with the First Crusade, and the Song of Roland, dealing with the era of the similarly romanticized Charlemagne, was directly influenced by the experience of the crusades, going so far as to replace Charlemagne's historic Basque opponents with Muslims. A popular theme for troubadours was the knight winning the love of his lady by going on crusade in the east.[citation needed]

The ever-living Frederick Barbarossa, in his mountain cave: a late 19th-century German woodcut

In the 14th century, Godfrey of Bouillon was united with the Trojan War and the adventures of Alexander the Great against a backdrop for military and courtly heroics of the Nine Worthies who stood as popular secular culture heroes into the 16th century, when more critical literary tastes ran instead to Torquato Tasso and Rinaldo and Armida, Roger and Angelica. Later, the rise of a more authentic sense of history among literate people brought the Crusades into a new focus for the Romantic generation in the romances of Sir Walter Scott in the early 19th century. Crusading imagery could be found even in the Crimean War, in which the United Kingdom and France were allied with the Muslim Ottoman Empire, and in World War I, especially Allenby's capture of Jerusalem in 1917.[citation needed]

In Spain, the popular reputation of the Crusades is outshone by the particularly Spanish history of the Reconquista. El Cid is the central figure.[citation needed] In a broader sense, crusade was used, in a rhetorical and metaphorical sense, to identify as righteous any war that was given a religious or moral justification.[citation needed]

Linder (2001) examines 15th-century Catholic Church liturgy designed to generate support for the war effort against the Turks and to legitimize its aims. Two types of Missae Contra Turcos were used: masses converted to this function through the addition of appropriate three core prayers and complete dedicated masses. The most popular example of the first type was the triple prayer set originally established by Clement V as a Holy Land crusade liturgy and subsequently mobilized against the Turks. The second type is represented by nine different mass formularies that were introduced after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.[citation needed] Most surviving liturgies are of German or French provenance, indicating extensive use not only among the front-line populations but also in areas far removed from any threat. The liturgy displays its intense crisis rhetoric. Its predominant stance of vulnerability and defensiveness entailed aggressive mobilization and the conceptualization of the Turk as the actual, specific manifestation of the generic infidel, the competing religious Other; and the remarkable continuity - in form and in content - that linked this liturgy with its parent liturgies (mainly those of the campaigns against the pagans and the Holy Land Crusades) further accentuated these traits. The communicative function and value of this liturgy is highlighted by the concentration of the direct, unmediated communicative elements in that part of the mass that was the most accessible to the laity.[20]


In the 19th century, romantic writers like novelist Sir Walter Scott created heroic images of the crusaders. The romantics and conservative adherents of the European anciens régimes appropriated crusading imagery for their own 19th-century political goals, downplaying religion to fit within a modern, secular context and presenting crusades as a counterpoint to liberal ideas of nationalism.[21]

The Salle des Croisades in the north wing of the Palace of Versailles opened in 1843, commissioned by king Louis-Philippe, at a time when France was seized with enthusiasm with its historical past, and especially the period of the Crusades. The rooms are filled with over 120 paintings related to the Crusades.[22]

Knobler (2006) examines the use of the crusades as a national symbol from the 19th century to the 1910s in France, Spain, the Ottoman Empire, Ethiopia, Britain, Russia, and Bulgaria. The Enlightenment and its secular ideological successors held the crusades as an example of medieval barbarity. Enlightenment thinkers like historian-philosophers Voltaire and David Hume denounced the crusades, as did the historian of Byzantium Edward Gibbon, who wrote:

The principle of the crusades was a savage fanaticism; and the most important effects were analogous to the cause…. The belief of the Catholics was corrupted by new legends…. The active spirit of the Latins preyed on the vitals of their reason and religion…. The lives and labours of millions, which were buried in the East, would have been more profitably employed in the improvement of their native country.[23]

Knobler (2006) explores three primary themes: memory of the crusades as it relates to debates over the generation and use of national symbols; the crusader as a romantic hero; and the Muslim recollection of the crusades as a shameful blot on the past of Christian nations. The crusades appealed to many Europeans because they reflected a morally unambiguous time, sparked romanticized images of warfare in a time of imperialist expansion, and provided heroic templates for modern "crusading" imperialist heroes.[24]

Islamic world[edit]

There was little interest in the crusades in Islamic culture prior to the 20th century. Carole Hillenbrand has argued that Arab historians have often taken a Western viewpoint because they have historically been opposed to Turkish control of their homelands. [25] Phillips (2005) summarizes the general indifference by stating that "most Muslims" see the Crusades as "just another invasion among many in their history".[26] The veneration of Saladin as chivalrous opponent of the Crusaders likewise finds no reflection in Islamic tradition before the visit of German Emperor Wilhelm II to Saladin's tomb in 1898.[27] The visit, coupled with anti-imperialist sentiments, led nationalist Arabs to reinvent the image of Saladin and portray him as a hero of the struggle against the West. The image of Saladin they used was the romantic one created by Walter Scott and other Europeans in the West at the time. It replaced Saladin's reputation as a figure who had been largely forgotten in the Muslim world, eclipsed by more successful figures such as Baybars of Egypt.[28] Modern Arab states have sought to commemorate Saladin through various measures, often based on the image created of him in the 19th-century west.[29]

Renewed interest in the period is comparatively recent, arising in the context of modern Jihadist propaganda calling for war on the Western "crusaders".[30] Notably, a fatwa signed by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in 1998 called for jihad against "the crusader-Zionist alliance" (referring to the United States and Israel).[31] By 2008, The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World claimed that "many Muslims consider the Crusades to be a symbol of Western hostility toward Islam".[not in citation given][32] The term ṣalībiyyūn "crusader", a 19th-century loan translation from Western historiography, is now in common use as a pejorative; Salafi preacher Wagdy Ghoneim has used it interchangeably with naṣārā and masīḥiyyīn as a term for Christians in general.[33]


  1. ^ "L'Histoire des Croisades" by Archange de Clermont OFM in Traité du Calvaire de Hiérusalem et de Dauphiné, Lyon (1638). Louis Maimbourg, Histoire des croisades pour la délivrance de la Terre-Sainte (1675/76). Contemporary historiographers discussed the topic in terms of the "deeds of the Franks" (Gesta Francorum), or the "deeds done across the sea" (outremer; William of Tyre, Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum).
  2. ^ See Dana Carleton Munro, "War and History,' American Historical Review 32:2 (January 1927): 219–31 online
  3. ^ as in a 1995 BBC television series, presented by Terry Jones, which portrayed the crusades as a long, misguided war of intolerance, ignorance and barbarism against a peaceful and sophisticated Muslim world. Donald E. Queller and Thomas F. Madden. The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople (2nd ed. 1999), p. 1, Most historians have a negative view of the reliability of the BBC series.
  4. ^ "all those medieval military endeavors that were penitential in nature (like pilgrimages), were authorized by bishops or the Pope, and whose participants typically engaged in the rite of taking the cross and the crusader's vow". Nicholas Paul and Suzanne Yeager, eds. (2012). Remembering the Crusades: Myth, Image, and Identity. Johns Hopkins U.P. pp. 3–4.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link). This tendency is reflected in Tyerman's 2006 New History, which includes chapters on "The Expansion of the Crusades" (ch. 18: Albigensian Crusade, 19. Fifth Crusade, 20. Reconquista, 21: Northern Crusades) and on "The Later Crusades" (ch. 25: "The Eastern Crusades in the Later Middle Ages", ch. 26: "The Crusade and Christian Society in the Later Middle Ages").
  5. ^ Amin Maalouf, Crusades Through Arab Eyes
  6. ^ J. Determann, The Crusades in Arabic Schoolbooks (2007), p. 13.
  7. ^ Hillenbrand, The Crusades, Islamic Perspectives p. 5
  8. ^ Murphy, Thomas Patrick. The Holy War. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1976. pg. 198. A History of the Middle East, Second Edition, London: Penguin Books, 2003, p 21. "Assaulted from all quarters, the Muslim world turned in on itself. It became oversensitive [and] defensive… attitudes that grew steadily worse as worldwide evolution, a process from which the Muslim world felt excluded, continued."
  9. ^ Riley-Smith 2009, p. xiv
  10. ^ Riddle (2008) says that for his day Runciman was the "greatest historian of the Crusades." He reports that, "Prior to Runciman, in the early part of the [20th] century, historians related the Crusades as an idealistic attempt of Christendom to push Islam back." Runciman regarded the Crusades "as a barbarian invasion of a superior civilization, not that of the Muslims but of the Byzantines." John M Riddle (2008). A History of the Middle Ages, 300 - 1500. Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Incorporated. p. 315.
  11. ^ Edward Peters (2011). The First Crusade: "The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres" and Other Source Materials. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 314.
  12. ^ "It is no exaggeration to say that Runciman single-handedly crafted the current popular concept of the crusades. The reasons for this are twofold. First, he was a learned man with a solid grasp of the chronicle sources. Second, and perhaps more important, he wrote beautifully. The picture of the crusades that Runciman painted owed much to current scholarship yet much more to Sir Walter Scott. Throughout his history Runciman portrayed the crusaders as simpletons or barbarians seeking salvation through the destruction of the sophisticated cultures of the east. In his famous "summing-up" of the crusades he concluded that "the Holy War in itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is a sin against Holy Ghost." Thomas F Madden (2005). The New Concise History Of The Crusades. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 216.
  13. ^ "[Tyerman] accurately, if perhaps with a bit of hubris, notes that Runciman's work is now outdated and seriously flawed." Mark K. Vaughn, review of Tyerman, God's War: A New History of the Crusades, in Naval War College Review, (2007) 60#2 p 159
  14. ^ "Opinion", The Wall Street Journal[year needed]
  15. ^ Findarticles.com
  16. ^ CS monitor George W. Bush in 2002 described his anti-terrorism campaign as a crusade but was compelled to repudiate the term when it was pointed out that the word, because of the historical events to which it referred in the Middle East, was regarded as offensive by some Muslims and Jews.
  17. ^ James Michael Illston, "'An Entirely Masculine Activity'? Women and War in the High and Late Middle Ages Reconsidered," (Thesis, Department of History, University of Canterbury, 2009) p. 1
  18. ^ Thomas F Madden (2005). The New Concise History Of The Crusades. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 223.
  19. ^ Richard Gottheil, Joseph Jacobs, "The Crusades" Jewish Encyclopedia. "The undisciplined mobs accompanying the first three Crusades attacked the Jews in Germany, France, and England, and put many of them to death, leaving behind for centuries strong feelings of ill will on both sides. The social position of the Jews in western Europe was distinctly worsened by the Crusades, and legal restrictions became frequent during and after them."
  20. ^ Amnon Linder, "The War Liturgy Against the Turks in the Late Middle Ages." Historia: Journal of the Historical Society of Israel (in Hebrew) (2001) (8): 73-105. ISSN 0334-4843
  21. ^ Riley-Smith 2009, p. xiv
  22. ^ The crusades, Christianity, and Islam by Jonathan Simon Christopher Riley-Smith p.54
  23. ^ Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, (1776), ch 61 p. 1086
  24. ^ Adam Knobler, "Holy Wars, Empires, and the Portability of the Past: the Modern Uses of Medieval Crusades." Comparative Studies in Society and History 2006 48(2): 293-325. ISSN 0010-4175 Fulltext: Cambridge Journals; see also Elizabeth Siberry, The New Crusaders: Images of the Crusades in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (2000)
  25. ^ Carole Hillenbrand (2000). The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives. Psychology Press. p. 5.
  26. ^ Jonathan Phillips, The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople (2005).[page needed]
  27. ^ The Kaiser laid a wreath on the tomb baring the inscription, "A Knight without fear or blame who often had to teach his opponents the right way to practice chivalry." Grousset (1970).
  28. ^ Riley Smith, Jonathan, "The Crusades, Christianity and Islam", (Columbia 2008), p. 63-66
  29. ^ Madden, Thomas F.: The Concise History of the Crusades; 3rd edition, Rowman & Littlefield, 2013. pp. 201-204.
  30. ^ "There is a straight line for propagandists to draw," Highly charged, BBC News, May 4, 2005
  31. ^ "Text of Fatwah Urging Jihad Against Americans". Archived from the original on April 22, 2006. Retrieved May 15, 2006.
  32. ^ John Trumpbour, "Crusades" in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World, ed. John L. Esposito. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article (accessed Feb 17, 2008).[page needed]
  33. ^ "Waǧdī Ghunaym uses the term 'ṣalībiyyīn' not so much in the meaning of foreign 'crusaders' but interchangeably with naṣārā and masīḥiyyīn to designate all Christians, including the Copts in Egypt." A. Hofheinz, "#WhyIHateIkhwan Islamist-secular polarisation in Egyptian social media", University of Oslo (2013).


general treatments
surveys and bibliographies
  • Boas, Adrian (ed.), The Crusader World (Routledge, 2015).
  • Constable, Giles. "The Historiography of the Crusades" in Angeliki E. Laiou, ed. The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World (2001); major overview of scholarship;online
  • Mayer, H.E., Bibliographie zur Geschichte der Kreuzzüge (2nd ed. 1965).
  • Siberry, Elizabeth. New Crusaders: Images of the Crusaders in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (2000)
  • Tyerman, Christopher. The Debate on the Crusades, 1099-2010 (Issues in Historiography) (2011) online review.
  • Althoff, Gerd; Fried, Johannes; Geary, Patrick J. Medieval Concepts of the Past: Ritual, Memory, Historiography (2002).
  • Bull, Marcus, and Damien Kempf, eds. Writing the Early Crusades: Text, Transmission and Memory (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2014) 174pp
  • Chevedden, Paul E. "The Islamic View and the Christian View of the Crusades: A New Synthesis," History (2008) 93# 310, pp 181–200.
  • Constable, Giles (2008). Crusaders and crusading in the Twelfth century. Ashgate. p. 3ff. ISBN 9780754665236.
  • Edgington, Susan B. and Sarah Lambert, eds., Gendering the Crusades (2002)
  • Ellenblum, Ronnie. Crusader Castles and Modern Histories (Cambridge University Press, 2007) 304pp
  • Harris, Jonathan. Byzantium and the Crusades (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014).
  • Hillenbrand, Carole, ed. The crusades: Islamic perspectives (Psychology Press, 2000).
  • Housley, Norman. Contesting the Crusades (Blackwell, 2006)
  • Madden, Thomas F. ed. The Crusades: The Essential Readings (2002) ISBN 0631230238
  • Mallett, Alex. Mediaeval Muslim Historians and the Franks in the Levant (Brill, 2014).
  • Munro, Dana Carleton. "War and History,' American Historical Review 32:2 (January 1927): 219–31. online edition
  • Nelson, Laura M. The Byzantine Perspective of the First Crusade: A Reexamination of Alleged Treachery and Betrayal (ProQuest, 2007).
  • Paul, Nicholas and Suzanne Yeager, eds. Remembering the Crusades: Myth, Image, and Identity (2012) excerpt and text search
  • Parsons, Simon Thomas and Paterson, Linda M., eds., Literature of the Crusades (Boydell & Brewer, 2018)
  • Paterson, Linda. 'Singing the Crusades. French and Occitan Responses to the Crusading Movements, 1137–1336'. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2018.
  • Riley-Smith, Jonathan (2009). What Were the Crusades?. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-22069-0.
  • Rudyard, Susan J. ed. The Medieval Crusade (Boydell & Brewer, 2004) 177pp
  • Stark, Rodney, God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, HarperOne (2010).
  • von Güttner-Sporzyński. Poland, Holy War, and the Piast Monarchy, 1100-1230 (Brepols, 2014)
  • von Güttner-Sporzyński. Recent Issues in Polish Historiography of the Crusades in The Military Orders, Volume 4: On Land and by Sea edited by Judi Upton-Ward (Ashgate, 2008) on Academia.edu on ResearchGate
primary sources