Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Things I learned teaching "Crusade and Jihad" this fall


Since September I have been teaching a special topics course on Crusade and Jihad. In my very first teaching jobs, courses on the Early and High Middle Ages at the University of Toronto, the Crusades certainly came up (in the early medieval course they were one of the very last topics); but that was a quarter-century ago. I did not rely on my past understandings of the Crusades this time around, but read a lot of new material, most of which has appeared since 1990 or even 2000. I am particularly grateful to Thomas Madden for putting together a collection called The Crusades: Essential Readings and Christopher Tyerman for his huge new narrative history, God's War.

Here are the new thoughts and perspectives that I gained concerning crusading as a result:

1. Back in the day, I had a very French and English view of the Crusades. Now I take the Germans a lot more seriously. Next, the Italians.

2. I was fascinated by the number of northern European fleets that took part in early Crusades, fleets that were organized across what we think of as national boundaries. It is particularly interesting because we know very little about the people who had the clout and connections to put together such fleets. The maritime world was apparently a different political sphere entirely.

3. The connection between crusading and Imperial ideology fascinates me. This perspective I owe to Christopher Tyerman, who carefully analyzed and described the involvement of King Conrad, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, Emperor Henry VI, and Emperor Frederick II. Not to mention the would-be Emperor Charles of Anjou.

4. Having not read a lot of German accounts the Crusades, Tyerman's book was the first to make me aware how odd it is that we (or at least I) take almost without thinking the side of Frederick II’s enemies when evaluating the significance of his crusade to Jerusalem.

5. Perhaps most valuable to me is that reading lots of primary and secondary accounts of wandering crusading armies renewed my awareness of warriors as constituting for some purposes a separate society, battening on the settled communities through which they traveled. This awareness will come in useful when I write my next book, Men at Arms.

As far as what I learned about jihad this fall: I learned, thanks to Carole Hillenbrand, David Cook, Patricia Crone and Capt. John "Garick” Chamberlin, among others, that there's a lot to learn and that systematic historical discussion is just getting underway.

Image: a French king and a German emperor fight a sultan.


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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Frankish women warriors in Muslim Middle Eastern sources


People always want to know if there were any women warriors or knights in the Middle Ages. The answer is that there is some scattered evidence of uncertain reliability.

In Hillenbrand's The Crusades: Islamic perspectives, there is translated a bit more evidence of this sort. I'm just going to quote the sources she assembles, without giving full citations.

Pages 348-9, in a section called Frankish Women Warriors:

Imad al-Din:

Amongst the Franks are women knights (fawaris). They have coats of mail and helmets. They are in men's garb and they are prominent in the thick of the fray. They act in the manner of those endowed with intellect [i.e. men] although they are ladies.

... On the day of the battle some of them come forth in the same way as the (male) knights. Despite their softness there is hardness (qaswa) in them. They have no clothing (kiswa) other than coats of mail. They have not been recognised [as women] until they have been stripped and laid bare. A number of them have been enslaved and sold.
Ibn al-Athir on Saladin's siege of Burzay, 1188:

[There was] a woman shooting from the citadel by means of the mangonel and it was she who put the Muslims' mangonel out of action.
Ibn Shaddad recording the testimony of an old man who was at Acre in 1191:

Inside their walls was a woman wearing a green coat (milwata). She kept on shooting at us with a wooden bow, so much so that she wounded a group of us. We overpowered her and killed her and took her bow, carrying it to the sultan, who was very amazed about that.

Imad al-Din drawing a moral on the battlefield of Acre, 1190:

We saw a woman slain because of her being a warrior.
Page 464:
"...according to Usama, there were [Muslim] women fighting ...during the siege b y the Isma'ilis of his home citadel of Shayzar, but as they were wearing full armour the sex of these warriors was not known until after the fighting."

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The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives, by Carole Hillenbrand

I finally got around to reading this 1999 book, a thorough, and perhaps uniquely so, survey of what Islamic sources tell us about the Crusade to the Holy Land in the 12th and 13th centuries. Its chief value is that it not only summarizes sources unavailable to people who cannot read Arabic or don't have access to rare books and manuscripts, but carefully evaluates those sources for reliability and usefulness.

A second valuable characteristic is that it is profusely illustrated with visual material derived from Syria, Palestine, Anatolia, Egypt and to some extent farther eastern countries, so as to give the reader a notion of what the era and area looked like to Muslim eyes. Brilliant, even though I am sure that doing so drove up the price of this book substantially.

Reading this book confirmed my judgment (not one necessarily one Hillenbrand would agree with) that the Muslim memory of the Crusades is something that has emerged in the last two centuries. I'm not saying that it is a "false" memory (is my memory of the First Crusade, derived from European books of the 20th century, "false?"), but simply as Hillenbrand documents, not a continuous one. Back in the period of western European occupation, the importance of that occupation was not given the same evaluation by all living Muslims. Some, especially those who had been personally affected, were zealous to reclaim Jerusalem. However, the behavior of most local and regional Muslim leaders most of the time indicates that Realpolitik was their main motivation. They fought who constituted a threat or a source of profit and where there was danger or opportunity. Obviously some rulers were allied with preachers of jihad, but it wasn't an overwhelming motivation.

Hillenbrand shows that Muslim observers and scholars began to visualize the Crusades as a unified phenomenon, and a really bad period in the history of Islam, during the 19th century, when intervention in the Middle East became a serious problem. The Arabic name for Crusades was adopted from European sources, and Saladin's reputation got a big boost from his place in Christian historiography (as opposed to the reputations of Zengi and Baybars, perhaps more famous in the Islamic tradition).

This makes me feel a bit more confident in saying that when modern Muslims get upset about the occupation of the Holy Land way back when, they are probably more upset about more recent occupations of any number of Middle Eastern countries now, or at least since Napoleon landed in Egypt.

I wonder what unhappy Muslims say about the Mongol destruction of Baghdad? Now there was a huge catastrophe.

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