The Crusades in an Islamic Context


narrated by Chris Gratien
featuring Joshua White, Maryam Patton, Zoe Griffith, and Gary Leiser
| The Crusades loom large in the Western imagination of medieval history and Christendom's relationship with the Islamic world. But what did these wars of the 11th-13th centuries mean for Muslims at the time? In this episode, we explore the history of the Crusades and their impact on the Islamic world. While the wars of the Crusades were bloody, they were not necessarily the main event of Islamic history beyond the regions bordering the Crusader states. In the Eastern Mediterranean, these states emerged as sites of both conflict and contact between European Christians and Muslims. In our episode, we go beyond the battlefield to discuss the gendered portrayals of the Crusaders within Islamic sources, and we consider the intellectual implications of access to the Islamicate scholarly tradition offered in the Crusader states. We also discuss the history and memory of Salah ad-Din al-Ayyubi or Saladin, whose chivalry and military prowess inspired awe both among Europeans of his day and among Arab nationalists many centuries later during their struggle with Western imperialism.


The Crusades loom large in the Western imagination of medieval history and Christendom's relationship with the Islamic world. But what did these wars of the 11th-13th centuries mean for Muslims at the time?

In this episode, we explore the history of the Crusades and their impact on the Islamic world. While the wars of the Crusades were bloody, they were not necessarily the main event of Islamic history beyond the regions bordering the Crusader states. In the Eastern Mediterranean, these states emerged as sites of both conflict and contact between European Christians and Muslims. In our episode, we go beyond the battlefield to discuss the gendered portrayals of the Crusaders within Islamic sources, and we consider the intellectual implications of access to the Islamicate scholarly tradition offered in the Crusader states. We also discuss the history and memory of Salah ad-Din al-Ayyubi or Saladin, whose chivalry and military prowess inspired awe both among Europeans of his day and among Arab nationalists many centuries later during their struggle with Western imperialism.

"The Making of the Islamic World" is an ongoing series aimed at providing resources for the undergraduate classroom. The episodes in this series are subject to updates and modification.





Joshua M. White is Associate Professor of History at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Piracy and Law in the Ottoman Mediterranean (Stanford University Press, 2017).
Maryam Patton is a PhD candidate at Harvard University in the joint History and Middle Eastern Studies program. She is interested in early modern cultural exchanges, and her dissertation studies cultures of time and temporal consciousness in the Eastern Mediterranean during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Zoe Griffith is Assistant Professor of History at Baruch College, CUNY and completed her Ph.D. at Brown University in 2017. Her research focuses on political economy, law, and governance in the Ottoman Arab provinces from the 17th to the 19th centuries. She records mainly in New York City.
Gary Leiser is a retired civil servant whose work focuses on medieval Islamic history. His book Prostitution in the Eastern Mediterranean World (I.B. Tauris) was published in 2017.

Credits

Interviews by Chris Gratien, Emrah Safa Gürkan, Kahraman Şakul, and Louis Fishman
Sound production by Chris Gratien
Music (by order of appearance): Aitua - Carulli - Op 317 Divertissement No 1; A.A. Aalto - Admin; Soft and Furious - So What?; A.A. Aalto - Traverse; Chad Crouch - Lollygag; Chad Crouch - Bon Journe; A.A. Aalto - Canyon; Zé Trigueiros - Big Road of Burravoe


Explore



Map of the Eastern Mediterranean in early 12th century. Source: Wikipedia


The series of wars known as the Crusades occupy a mythical place in the history of Christianity. They are often remembered as holy wars fueled by religious zeal to wrest the Holy Land from Muslim rule. The Crusades have figured prominently in pop culture understandings of history in the West going back many decades. Imagination about the Crusades has proven fertile ground for portrayals of medieval warfare and heroism in films such as the 1935 Hollywood blockbuster "The Crusades."


"The Crusades" (1935) starring Loretta Young and Henry Wilcoxon, produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille


In practice, the Crusades were a much more complicated and haphazard affair, and the Frankish Crusaders appear in Muslim sources as puzzling strangers more often than valiant Christian knights. The most important Arabic sources dating to the Crusader period were not unified in their perspective, but they demonstrate that the Crusaders, rather than Christianizing the Holy Land and expelling the influence of Islam, largely settled into the local context and sought to reproduce the medieval societies they came from.


In this lecture at the Institute for Advanced Study at University of Minnesota, Paul Cobb lectures on the historiography of the Crusades.


The Crusades were a blip in the history of the Islamic world writ large, but they were not inconsequential. The Crusades began during a period of political fragmentation in the Levant as Fatimid-Seljuk competition fizzled into a slatemate. During the Crusader period, a new dynasty--the Ayyubids--was able to consolidate power and retake Jerusalem, establishing a new dynasty in Cairo and erasing many of the traces of the Fatimid Caliphate in the process.

One interesting lens through which to study the Crusader encounters is gender. On the battlefield, men evaluated one another on the basis of their cultural understandings of valor, chivalry, and masculinity. Meanwhile, authors often remarked on the role of women in the Crusades, offering sources both on how women contributed to the wars but also how ideas about women informed Muslim understandings and portrayals of the new Frankish element in the Levant. 12th century historian Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani offers a particularly ribald account of the sexual marketplace that emerged around the Crusader states. While our guest Gary Leiser notes that prostitution was an enduring feature of Mediterranean societies, the Crusader period brough a new dynamic to an old phenomenon.


Perhaps sex and violence were at the forefront of many Crusaders' minds, but as we discuss in this episode, some Europeans also traveled to the Holy Land in search of knowledge, especially for access to Arabic scholarship and translations of classical works. Indirectly, a messy and bloody conflict also created arenas of cultural exchange.

The Crusades did not loom as large in the historiography of the Islamic world as they did in Europe, but people in the Middle East region today still find symbolic importance in these wars that occurred nearly a millennium ago. Salah ad-Din al-Ayyubi or Saladin, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty that ruled Egypt and Syria during the Crusader period, is one figure who stands out in both Christian and Muslim accounts of the Crusades. One of the most iconic and fascinating portrayals of Saladin is to be found in the film "Saladin the Victorious" by Egyptian director Youssef Chahine. Produced during the 1960s amidst the rise of Arab nationalism, anti-imperialism, and the Arab-Israeli conflict, Saladin and his fight to retake Jerusalem were recast as part of the struggle of the Arab people itself against outside forces.


Arabic language movie poster for "Saladin the Victorious" (1963)


The meeting between Saladin and Richard the Lionheart as portrayed by Youssef Chahine in "Saladin the Victorious"

Thinking about the politics of contemporary portrayals of the Crusades can be just as fascinating as the history of these wars themselves, but we recommend to anyone new to the topic to return to the sources and read more about how the Crusades were received and described by Muslim observers of the period. Below is a select reading list of primary and secondary sources.

Translated Sources on the Crusades

Barber, Malcolm, and Keith Bate. Letters from the East: Crusaders, Pilgrims and Settlers in the 12th-13th Centuries. 2016. 

Ibn al-Athīr, ʻIzz al-Dīn, and D. S. Richards. The Chronicle of Ibn al-Athir for the crusading period from al-Kamil fi'l-Ta'rikh. the years 491--541/1097--1146, the coming of the Franks and the Muslim response. 2017.

Gabrieli, Francesco. Arab Historians of the Crusades. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2010.

Usāmah ibn Munqidh, and Paul M. Cobb. The Book of Contemplation: Islam and the Crusades. London: Penguin, 2008.

Usāmah ibn Munqidh, and Philip K. Hitti. An Arab-Syrian gentleman and warrior in the period of the Crusades: memoirs of Usāmah ibn-Munqidh (Kitāb al-Iọtibār). New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

Vahram, and Karl Friedrich Neumann. Chronicle of the Armenian Kingdom in Cilicia, During the Time of the Crusades. 1831.

Published Works

If you have suggestions for further reading, feel free to add in the comment box.

Burnett, Charles. "Antioch as a Link Between Arabic and Latin Culture in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries" (2000)

Cobb, Paul M. The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades. 2014.

Hillenbrand, Carole. The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives. 2017.

Holt, P. M. The Age of the Crusades: the Near East from the eleventh century to 1517. New York, 1986.

Kedar, Benjamin. "Intellectual Activities in a Holy City: Jerusalem in the Twelfth Century" from Franks, Muslims, and Oriental Christians in the Latin Levant (2006)

Maalouf, Amin. The Crusades Through Arab Eyes. Saqi Books, 2012.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.





Chris Gratien is Assistant Professor of History at University of Virginia, where he teaches classes on global environmental history and the Middle East. He is currently preparing a monograph about the environmental history of the Cilicia region of the former Ottoman Empire from the 1850s until the 1950s.

Comments


Ottoman History Podcast is a noncommerical website intended for educational use. Anyone is welcome to use and reproduce our content with proper attribution under the terms of noncommercial fair use within the classroom setting or on other educational websites. All third-party content is used either with express permission or under the terms of fair use. Our page and podcasts contain no advertising and our website receives no revenue. All donations received are used solely for the purposes of covering our expenses. Unauthorized commercial use of our material is strictly prohibited, as it violates not only our noncommercial commitment but also the rights of third-party content owners.

We make efforts to completely cite all secondary sources employed in the making of our episodes and properly attribute third-party content such as images from the web. If you feel that your material has been improperly used or incorrectly attributed on our site, please do not hesitate to contact us.