Sources on the Crusades

H asked: If you were to create a fantasy/alternative universe world that referenced Crusader-era religious politics in an exaggerated and fictitiously magical way, what would be a good way to make sure that all religious themes are represented as respectfully as possible? Are there any resources on the folklore of that time period?

That’s a very cool question, and my apologies for the delay in my reply.  There’s actually a pretty good source basis for the study of the Crusades, so it’s definitely possible to write something that integrates a lot of existing historical sources.

In terms of what sources to use, it depends on what aspect of the Crusades you want to write about.  There are several good general histories on the period – Hans Mayer’s The Crusade is sort of the standard, but it is a mid-twentieth-century Germany history, so very dry and very detail-oriented.  Personally, I like Elizabeth Hallam’s The Chronicles of the Crusades as being more readable, and she integrates a lot of images, which may be helpful for giving you an idea of the environment (what they wore, what the cities looked like, etc.).

If you’re interested in the experience of the Crusades by the indigenous populations, I’d suggest Amin Malouf’s The Crusades through Arab Eyes.  It’s a bit graphic for a historical text, but given the source material, that’s pretty understandable.  There are also several good translations of period chronicles that may be helpful – Wallis Budge’s translation of the Chronicle of Bar Hebraeus is very readable, and still pretty accurate to the original Syriac.  The chronicle was written by a Syriac-speaking, Christian historian in the 14th century as a continuation of the chronicle of Michael the Syrian, so his views on the Crusaders integrate a lot of different, competing identities (Christians versus Arab versus Syrian versus local).  There’s also Ebied and Thomas’ Muslim-Christian Polemics during the Crusades, which talks about how the Crusades influenced local non-Muslims’ opinions of Muslim rulership, but the book is hard to come by even in university libraries, so you may have trouble tracking it down.

As for the European context, pretty much anything by Jonathan Riley-Smith is a good start – he’s written several books on how the idea of ‘a Crusade’ developed and changed in Europe.  His recent book on the Crusading orders (Templars and Hospitalliers as professed religions) is also a very interesting read, but again, may be hard to get a hold of.  If it’s the French Crusades that you’re particularly interested in, there is a translation of the saint’s life of Louis of France, produced by Jean de Joinville – the full text may be available online, and I know it’s been reprinted in a Penguin classics collection.  In terms of European folklore, you might also want to look in to the lay Crusade movements like the Crusade of Peter the Hermit or the Children’s Crusade – it appears there were at least intermittent period of ‘crusade frenzy’ in Europe in which everyone wanted to be involved.

There is also a lot of material specifically on the religious politics and how the Crusades impacted Christian practice and belief.  Bernard Hamilton’s Latin Church in the Crusader State is a bit outdated, but still a good read, as is Wakefield’s Heresy, Crusade and Inquisition.  Tyerman’s recent Fighting for Christendom: Holy War and the Crusades also has some interesting perspectives on the justifications for the theology underpinning the Crusades.

In general, I think the biggest challenge for writing about the Crusades is focusing on the day-to-day and not getting caught up in too much foreshadowing.  There’s very little evidence to suggest that people knew that ‘the Crusades’ would become a thing, as opposed to experiencing the battles and wars as isolated events.  Especially for the people in the Middle East, it’s unclear if they even had a concept of “the Crusades” as a distinct historical period until the modern age and interactions with Western historians.  Instead, many of the local historians focused on local events, such as the internal factionalism in the Muslim caliphate and, in the 13th century, the Mongol invasion, alongside the Crusaders.

I hope that helps!  If you’re interested in a specific period or region, let me know and I’d be happy to suggest some more info!

About askanislamicist

I'm an academic who specializes in early Islamic history and the history of religious interactions, who, in her free time, enjoys shouting into the internet.
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