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There has been much written on the Crusades, mostly since the Victorian period and within the west, outside of academics, we tend to cling to those Victorian models relating to their cause and motivation of the key players.

This can be a thorny subject, so I'll ask that we try and keep emotions to a minimum (myself included) and source our statements as much as possible.

Since the 1950s there has been a more academic focus on the subject which has still not seeped into the media from which a large percentage of the public learns. New movies are still being released clinging to Victorian ideals and perceptions of history without incorporating more modern scholarship. Documentaries released in the west continue with this trend, although some are getting better.

The issue revolves around the cause of the Crusades. While the Victorian perception of these wars and their belligerents was largely that of an aggressive, warlike nature, perhaps a reflection of observations then being made about their own empire, more modern scholarship tends to tone this down quite a bit and suggest that the Crusades were actually defensive actions; reactions to centuries of expansion into their territories.

Prof. Thomas F. Madden, history professor and former Chair of the History Department at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, and Director of Saint Louis University's Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, writes:


Misconceptions about the Crusades are all too common. The Crusades are generally portrayed as a series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics. They are supposed to have been the epitome of self-righteousness and intolerance, a black stain on the history of the Catholic Church in particular and Western civilization in general...So what is the truth about the Crusades? Scholars are still working some of that out. But much can already be said with certainty. For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression—an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands [1].

Dr. Jonathan Riley-Smith, founder of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East continues:


Crusades cannot be defined solely in terms of inter-faith relations as many of them were waged against opponents who were not Muslim, but, what- ever the theatre of war, an expedition could not be launched to spread Christianity or Christian rule, but had to be a defensive reaction to an injury perpetrated by another [2].

Lets look at the history for a moment.

Dr. Helen Nicholson, Reader in Medieval History at Cardiff University and author of numerous academically respected books on the Crusades:


The Christians of Europe had perceived Islam as a serious military threat to Christendom since the beginnings of Islam in the seventh century. The rapid military expansion of Islam under Mohammad and the caliphs had resulted in the conquest of the Middle East, North Africa, most of Spain and the western Mediterranean Islands. These areas had all been part of the Roman Empire and had been officially Christian since at least the fourth century. Muslim generals led their armies into Gaul (now France) and reached as far north as Poitiers, a few days' ride from Paris, where they were defeated by Frankish forces under Charles Martel ('the Hammer') in 732....The loss of the holy places of Palestine to Islam in the late seventh century had been a heavy ideological blow to Christendom, although the Muslim rulers generally allowed peaceful pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the other Christian holy sites. Until the late eleventh century, Western Christendom was not sufficiently united or economically strong to conceive of any united, sustained counterattack on Islam to recover its holy sites and the territory which had belonged to the ancient Roman empire. However, by the late eleventh century, greater political stability and economic growth meant that a large expedition to assist the Byzantine emperor to recover the old Byzantine territories in the Middle East had become feasible [3].

Her point is a very important one. It was not until the 11th century that the west had the stability and material resources that enabled them to react to previous centuries of aggression. The first Crusade began in 1095… 460 years after the first Christian city was overrun by Muslim armies, 457 years after Jerusalem was conquered by Muslim armies, 453 years after Egypt was taken by Muslim armies, 443 after Muslims first plundered Italy, 427 years after Muslim armies first laid siege to the Christian capital of Constantinople, 380 years after Spain was conquered by Muslim armies, 363 years after France was first attacked by Muslim armies, 249 years after Rome itself was sacked by a Muslim army.

By the time the Crusades finally began, Muslim armies had conquered two-thirds of the Christian world.

Dr. Madden again:


They (the Crusades) were the West’s belated response to the Muslim conquest of fully two-thirds of the Christian world. While the Arabs were busy in the seventh through the tenth centuries winning an opulent and sophisticated empire, Europe was defending itself against outside invaders and then digging out from the mess they left behind. Only in the eleventh century were Europeans able to take much notice of the East. The event that led to the crusades was the Turkish conquest of most of Christian Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The Christian emperor in Constantinople, faced with the loss of half of his empire, appealed for help to the rude but energetic Europeans. He got it. More than he wanted, in fact [4].

Commenting on the recent scholarship of Oxford historian Christopher Tyerman in his recent, Fighting for Christendom: Holy War and the Crusades (Oxford, 2005), Professor Steven Ozment of Harvard writes how Tyerman: “maintains that the four centuries of holy war known as the Crusades are both the best recognized and most distorted part of the Christian Middle Ages. He faults scholars, pundits, and laymen on both sides of the East-West divide for allowing the memory of the Crusades to be ‘woven into intractable modern political problems,’ where it ‘blurs fantasy and scholarship’ and exacerbates present-day hatreds.”

Historian Victor David Hanson comments on how absent "is any historical reminder that an ascendant Islam of the Middle Ages was concurrently occupying the Iberian peninsula — only after failing at Poitiers in the eighth century to take France. Greek-speaking Byzantium was under constant Islamic assault that would culminate in the Muslim occupation of much of the European Balkans and later Islamic armies at the gates of Vienna. Few remember that the Eastern Mediterranean coastal lands had been originally Phoenician and Jewish, then Persian, then Macedonian, then Roman, then Byzantine—and not until the seventh-century Islamic. Instead, whether intentionally or not, post-Enlightenment Westerners have accepted [Osama] bin Laden’s frame of reference that religiously intolerant Crusaders had gratuitously started a war to take something that was not theirs.” [5]

Dr. Jonathan Riley-Smith on the movie Kingdom of Heaven and the west's outdated and politically motivated understanding of Crusading:


Kingdom of Heaven will feed the preconceptions of Arab nationalists and Islamists. The words and actions of the liberal brotherhood and the picture of Palestine as a Western frontier will confirm for the nationalists that medieval crusading was fundamentally about colonialism. On the other hand the fanaticism of most of the Christians in the film and their hatred of Islam is what the Islamists want to believe. At a time of inter-faith tension, nonsense like this will only reinforce existing myths [6].

Thus, what we have is a massive disconnect between the public and academics relating to the cause and nature of the Crusades. The media from which the majority of the public learns (movies, fictional books, poor documentaries, etc) being the primary culprit behind the continued rehashing of historical concepts outdated by over 100 years of scholarship.

[1] [www.thearma.org]
[2] [www.crusades-encyclopedia.com]
[3] [homepage.ntlworld.com]
[4] [www.crusades-encyclopedia.com]
[5] [victorhanson.com]

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Subject Views Written By Posted
The Crusades 1146 Pete Vanderzwet 09-Mar-11 17:40
Re: The Crusades 391 Vanya 10-Mar-11 15:50
Re: The Crusades 260 Avatar 10-Mar-11 16:01
Re: The Crusades - PART TWO 364 Vanya 11-Mar-11 17:11
Re: The Crusades 392 lovejoy 17-Mar-11 11:16
Re: The Crusades 259 Vanya 17-Mar-11 11:51
Re: The Crusades 528 lovejoy 17-Mar-11 15:26

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