The Non-Religious Aims of the Crusades

The history of the Crusades, like any other, is contested territory among historians. It isn’t my area, but the two very distinguished historians of the Crusades with whose work I am even somewhat familiar–Jonathan Riley-Smith and Christopher Tyerman–take different approaches to their subject. Professor Riley-Smith’s view focuses on the distinctively religious, and righteously religious, component of the Crusades–the Crusades not as occasion for plunder and subjugation but quite the opposite: as just defensive wars and religiously motivated pilgrimages that were often financially and personally ruinous to their undertakers. Professor Tyerman, while not at all ignoring the dimension of religious ideas, instead tends to focus more on the institutional dimensions of the Crusades and how these series of wars were motivated by and affected the non-religious civic and social spheres (Tyerman is also the author of an interesting study in the historiography of the Crusades). No doubt this description misses many important points of union and division.

Here is a new book on the Crusades by Professor Tyerman, The World of the Crusades (Yale University Press).

“Throughout the Middle Ages crusading was justified by religious ideology, but the resulting military campaigns were fueled by concrete objectives: land, resources, power, reputation. Crusaders amassed possessions of all sorts, from castles to reliquaries. Campaigns required material funds and equipment, while conquests produced bureaucracies, taxation, economic exploitation, and commercial regulation. Wealth sustained the Crusades while material objects, from weaponry and military technology to carpentry and shipping, conditioned them.
 
This lavishly illustrated volume considers the material trappings of crusading wars and the objects that memorialized them, in architecture, sculpture, jewelry, painting, and manuscripts. Christopher Tyerman’s incorporation of the physical and visual remains of crusading enriches our understanding of how the crusaders themselves articulated their mission, how they viewed their place in the world, and how they related to the cultures they derived from and preyed upon.”

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