Today, I read a curious essay in the Washington Post by Professor Matthew Gabriele, a fellow historian of the crusades, titledIslamophobes want to recreate the Crusades. But they don’t understand them at all. I’ve never met Professor Gabriele, but I am familiar with his otherwise solid scholarship and reputation for kindness. In his essay, he made some strong claims about what crusade historians believe, as well as the nature of the Islamic threat facing eastern Christians in the era of the First Crusade and how that threat was understood by western Christians at the time. I want to consider some points related to his comments on those issues here.
Professor Gabriele is most concerned with how modern people are comparing the situation in the era of the First Crusade with the troubling occurrences of modern Islamic terrorism in the West. He also objects to any notion that the crusades were, at least initially, a defensive response to Muslim aggression. He cites various modern westerners who are not specialists on the medieval crusading movement who have made statements romanticizing the crusades and arguing for their return.
I agree with Professor Gabriele that the past does not repeat itself and the situation of the eleventh century is certainly far different than the one we find ourselves in today in the twenty-first century. Crusading, in any form resembling the expeditions of the eleventh and twelfth century, is not the solution to the, as of yet, unsolvable problem of modern Islamic terrorism, which according to the Global Terrorism Index claims the lives of over 30,000 people worldwide per year, with most of them Muslims.
Where I disagree with Professor Gabriele, surprisingly, is in his understanding of crusading history and what crusade historians over the last thirty or forty years have written about the origins of the crusading movement. Continue reading →
In 1940, the eminent crusade historian John L. La Monte complained of how, with the possible exception of Renaissance Florence, “no field” of historical research “has been the subject of so much worthless historical trash” as the medieval crusades. Over the last fifteen years, since I first began to study the medieval crusading movement as an undergraduate, I have increasingly come to appreciate the dim view of La Monte, as many crusade historians have continued to have very similar concerns about much of what has been published on the subject in the seventy-five years since La Monte first made his claim.
Consequently, when historian Alfred J. Andrea and I began to consider the idea of a book on modern popular myths of the medieval crusades, we were not surprised by the widespread interest we found among crusade historians in the project. Indeed, since 2008, when Al and I first discussed the topic at a crusade history conference in St. Louis, a number of crusade historians have had serious questions about the project, expressed curiosity over which of the many possible myths we might address, and often also expressed an interest in contributing to the project. Thus, it is not surprising that our final effort, Seven Myths of the Crusades, to be published in September 2015 by Hackett Publishing, involves the collective efforts of ten professional medieval historians who all teach, research, and write about the crusades. One of those historians is the widely respected and well-known Dr. Paul Crawford of California University of Pennsylvania.
Above Image: Francis Rita Ryan’s translation of Fulcher (Fulk) of Chartres A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem- 1095-1127 (University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 1969).
On January 3, 2015, I had the chance to present a paper for the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in New York City. I am presenting the basic text of my talk below. Anyone familiar with the dynamics of presenting papers at academic conferences will realize this is a very condensed overview of my broader consideration of the topic.
My paper was titled “Rape and the First Crusade.” It considers the oddity of the First Crusade as it related to the issue. While the wartime rape of captured women (and sometimes men) was common by all medieval armies, Christian or Islamic, the participants of the First Crusade generally seem to have avoided the practice. Indeed, the sources, whether friendly or hostile to the crusaders, seem to agree on the issue. This presentation pulls together some disconnected themes already considered by other historians into a broader and more comprehensive narrative to argue that the theoretical framework of the First Crusade contributed to a new mentality among warriors by which they sought to avoid sexual immorality, including rape, if they were to be successful on the battlefield.
This seems worthwhile to post here because the wartime rape of captive women continues to be a major problem today. One need only consider events in Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990s, or more recent events with Boko Haram in Nigeria or ISIS in Iraq over the past few months. See my recent blog post on the issue here. What is most interesting about the First Crusade (as it relates to this topic) is that this potentially represents a case in which a theological framework for warfare seems to have, at the least, diminished instances of rape by otherwise violent warriors who had become accustomed to such practices prior to the First Crusade. If medieval Christian clerics could find a way to curtail, if not eliminate, such a brutal practice by Christian warriors in their day, then perhaps there is some small kernel of value in studying this for dealing with similar problems in the present.