What the crusades meant to Europe

Authored by: Christopher Tyerman

The Medieval World

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  February  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138848689
eBook ISBN: 9781315102511
Adobe ISBN:


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For Edward Gibbon, the crusades concerned nothing less than ‘the world’s debate’. Two centuries later, it can still be argued that crusading ‘was of central importance to nearly every country in Europe and the Near East until the Reformation’ with profound implications for modern politics, notably anti-Semitic violence, hostility between Orthodox and Catholic Christians and the escalating tensions between Moslems and Christians in the Balkans, Near East or elsewhere (Riley-Smith 1997: 1). Although lacking medieval definition in law or language, crusading is portrayed as a ‘movement’, implying a degree of coherence and unity of purpose, attitude or behaviour. Western historians have subsequently read into the crusades European colonialism; racial and cultural superiority; the triumph of faith over materialism or reason; nationalist epic; the opening of Europe to eastern trade, inventions and learning; the climax of shining chivalry or bestial barbarism; even ‘the central drama’ of the medieval period ‘to which all other incidents were in some degree subordinate’ (Archer and Kingsford 1894: 450–1). Yet in many respects, the dynamism of the crusade was derived from the culture that gave it birth and sustained it for half a millennium rather than the other way round.

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