Post-classical history

Arabic Sources

Although many Arabic sources dating from the period of the crusades have survived to the modern day, there are a number of important texts that have been lost over time. Of those that have survived, a considerable number have been edited and published, but many are still extant only in manuscript form. Translations of the Arabic sources are even fewer, making it difficult for scholars who do not read Arabic to make effective use of this material. In addition, as with any primary source, one must always attempt to understand the motivations of the authors of the Arabic sources and how these might affect their writing. A further complication (and here one must acknowledge that the applicability of the term crusade to the Christian reconquest of Spain is debatable) is the fact that the Christian concept of crusade was one that was alien to medieval Muslims, and in many cases the Europeans invading Muslim territory were viewed as being merely one among many groups of enemies. Few Muslims truly understood the motives of the Christians invading their territories, and most often they ascribed their enemies’ actions to greed for booty. As a result, few Muslim works give detailed consideration to the crusading phenomenon. Accounts of the actions of the Christian enemy often form part of larger narratives of events, mentioned only in an occasional fashion and sometimes lacking details that might be considered important by modern scholars.


A number of genres of Arabic writing existed during the crusading period. Most of the authors of the texts that make up these genres were Muslims (and it is on their works in particular that this entry focuses); however, it is important to note that there are also Arabic works written by Christian and Jewish writers, some of which are mentioned below. It also should be noted that the various genres of Arabic writing occasionally overlap. For example, the universal chronicle of the Coptic Christian writer al-Mākin ibn al-‘Amīd (d. 1273) entitled al-MajmŪ al-Mubārak (The Blessed Collection) takes the form of a series of biographies.

Most of the authors of the period wrote in Classical Arabic, but it is also important to note a variant of Arabic found in sources from the Jewish communities of the time, Judeo- Arabic (Arabic written in Hebrew characters). The best- known examples of Judeo-Arabic are some of the documents recovered in 1896-1897 from the Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo, commonly known as the Cairo Genizah documents, which include works from a wide variety of genres.


The most important genre of texts that have passed down to modern historians from the period of the crusades is the universal chronicle. A number of annalistic histories were compiled during the period, of which the best known is al- Kāmil fi’l-Ta’rīkh (The Universal History) of the Mosuli writer Ibn al-Athīr (d. 1233), which covers history from the Creation up to 1230-1231, two years before the author’s death. Later chronicles of this type include Mirāt al-Zamān fī Ta’rīkh al-Ayān (The Mirror of Time Concerning the History of Notables), by the Turkish preacher and writer Sibt ibn al-Jawzī (d. 1256), and Ta’rīkh al-Duwal wa’l-Mulük (The History of States and Kings), by the Egyptian Ibn al- Furāt (d. 1405). At the other end of the Mediterranean, one of the most influential chroniclers of the period was Ahmad ibn Mûsā al-Rāzī (d. 955), much of whose writings, although written before the beginnings of the Christian expansion into al-Andalus and now mostly lost, were later incorporated into the (also mostly lost) works of the compiler Ibn Hayyān (d. 1076), and later into al-Bayān al-Mughrib fī Akhbār al-Andalus wa’l-Maghrib (The Amazing Explanation of the Reports of al-Andalus and the Maghrib), by Ibn Idhārī (d. 1312).

Related to the universal chronicles are the local histories, adopting a similar form but centered on a particular city or country. Among the earliest such texts from the crusading period are Dhayl Ta’rīkh Dimashq (The Continuation of the History of Damascus), by the Damascene notable Ibn al- Qalānisī (d. 1160), and Ta’rīkh Halab (The History of Aleppo), by al-Azīmī (d. after 1161). Other examples of this genre include Zubdat al-Halab min Ta’rīkh Halab (The Crème de la Crème of the History of Aleppo), by the Aleppan teacher, historian, and statesman Kamāl al-Dīn ibn al-‘Adīm(d. 1262), and al-Nujüm al-Zāhira fī Mulük Misr wa’l-Qāhira ( The Shining Stars of the Kings of Egypt and Cairo), by the Mamlûk historian Ibn Taghrībirdī (d. 1470).

Another related genre is the dynastic history. Ibn al- Athīr, mentioned above, wrote a history of the Zangids entitled al-Ta’rikh al-Bāhir fi ’l-Dawla al-Atabākiyya ( The Dazzling History of the State of the Atabegs). In a similar vein, the Syrian qādi (judge) and historian Ibn Wāsil (d. 1298) wrote a history of the Ayyûbids, Mufarrij al-Kurüb fi AkhbārBani Ayyüb (The Remover of Worries about Reports of the Scions of Ayyüb). Both Zangids and Ayyûbids are described in another important work of this type by the Damascene scholar Abû Shāma (d. 1268) entitled Kitāb al-Rawdatayn fiAkhbār al-Dawlatayn al-Nüriyya wa’l-Salāhiyya (The Book of the Two Gardens, Giving Reports of the States of Nür al-Din and Saladin). Another work of this type, this time from al- Andalus, is the history of the Zīrid dynasty of Granada, al- Tibyān (The Explanation), by its last representative, ‘Abd Allāh ibn Buluggīn (d. after 1090). Finally, although not strictly a dynastic history, another Arabic work written in a similar vein is the history of the patriarchs of the Coptic church of Egypt, Siyar al-Bay‘a al-Muqaddasa (Biographies of the Holy Patriarchs). This was begun by the bishop of al- Ashmunayn, Sāwīrus (Severus) ibn al-Muqaffa‘ (d. 979/1003), and then continued by a number of unknown writers up to the fifteenth century.

Biographies and Autobiographies

Related to the dynastic histories are biographical works. These take, broadly speaking, two forms: biographies of single individuals and biographical dictionaries. Probably the best-known biographies of a single individual are three biographies of Saladin: al-Nawādir al-Sultāniyya wa’l- Mahāsin al-Yüsufiyya ( The Rare Qualities of the Sultan and the Merits of Yüsuf), by the qādī Bahā’ al-Dīn ibn Shaddād (d. 1234), and two works by the kātib (secretary-scholar) ‘Imād al-Dīn al-Isfahānī (d. 1201), entitled al-Fath al-Qussi fi’l-Fath al-Qudsi (Qussian Eloquence on the Conquest of Jerusalem) and al-Barq al-Shāmi (The Syrian Lightning). A number of later writers also wrote biographies of sultans. There are three biographies of al-Zāhir Baybars I, the Mamlûksultan (d. 1277), all written by chancery officials: al-Rawd al-±āhirfi Sirat al-Malik al-±āhir (The Radiant Garden on the Life of al-Malik al-± āhir), by Ibn ‘Abd al- Zāhir (d. 1292), another work apparently bearing the same title by ‘Izz al-Dīn ibn Shaddād (d. 1285), and an abridgement of Ibn ‘Abd al-Zāhir’s work, Husn al-Manāqib al-Sirriyya al-Muntaza‘a min al-Sira al-±āhiriyya (TheExcellence of the Secret Virtues Taken from the Biography of al- ±āhir), made by his nephew, Shāfi‘ ibn ‘Alī (d. 1330). Ibn ‘Abd al-Zāhir also wrote biographies of al-Mansûr Qalāwūn (d. 1290) and al-Ashrāf Khalīl (d. 1293). His nephew wrote a biography of Qalāwūn.

A number of authors compiled biographical dictionaries during the period. Among the most important are Ibn ‘Asākir (d. 1176), a prolific historian and preacher from Damascus, who produced a biographical dictionary entitled Ta’rikh MadinatDimashq (History of the City of Damascus). Kamāl al-Dīn ibn al-‘Adīm, the chronicler of Aleppo mentioned above, also produced a biographical dictionary based on the inhabitants of the city, Bughyat al-Talab fi Ta’rikh Halab (The Object of Desire in the History of Aleppo). Some interesting information on Frankish rule in Palestine is contained in a collection of biographies of Muslim shaykhs by Diyā’ al-Dīn al-Maqdisī (d. 1245) entitled Karāmāt Mashāyikh al-Ard al-Muqaddasa (The Wondrous Deeds of the Shaykhs of the Holy Land). Other important biographical dictionaries from the period include the Wafayāt al- Ayān (Death Notices of Notables) of Ibn Khallikān (d. 1282), a continuation of Ibn Khallikān’s work by the Christian official al-Suqā‘ī (d. 1328) entitled Tali Kitāb Wafayāt al-Ayān (Continuation of the Death Notices of Notables), and the Kitāb al-Wāfi bi’l-Wafayāt (Book of Complete Death Notices) of the chancery official al-Safadī (d. 1363).

Many of the works mentioned so far contain autobiographical elements; however, few contain detailed accounts of the authors’ lives. The main exception to this is the Tibyān of ‘Abd Allāh ibn Buluggīn, much of which is specifically dedicated to an account of his own life. Another autobiographical work, this time from the Levant, is the much-celebrated memoir of the Syrian emir and poet Usāma ibn Munqidh (d. 1188) entitled Kitāb al-I‘tibār (The Book of Learning by Example). Usāma was at times an associate of both Saladin and Nûr al-Dīn and has left an account of his life that contains numerous stories of interactions between Franks and Muslims. Indeed, he himself claimed friendship with a number of important Frankish figures. However, Usāma wrote his book with a didactic purpose in mind, and at times one has to suspect that his veracity suffered as a consequence. It remains, nonetheless, an important source, giving the reader insights into Muslim relations with the Franks that are absent from most of the other works from the period.


During his lifetime Usāma was actually more famous for his poetry, and poetry forms another important genre of Arabic writing from the period. A number of poets were active during the crusading era, including the Syrians Ibn al-Khayyāt (d. 1120s), Ibn Munir (d. 1153), and Ibn al-Qaysarāni (d. 1154), as well as al-Abiwardi (d. 1113) from Khurasan. ‘Imād al-Din al-Isfahāni, the biographer of Saladin mentioned above, also both composed and collected poetry. Many of the poems from the period are panegyrics of sultans and exhortations to the jihād (holy war). However, one also finds other works: for example, Ibn al-Qaysarāni also wrote poems extolling the beauty of Frankish women.

Religious Texts

Another form of encouragement to the jihād came, not surprisingly, from the religious classes. A particularly important text here is the Kitāb al-Jihād (Book of the Holy War) by ‘Ali ibn Tāhir al-Sulami (d. 1106), which the author dictated in 1105 as a series of public lectures in two mosques in Damascus. Other important preachers and writers of judicial texts from the period include Ibn‘Asākir, mentioned above, and the controversial theologian and jurist Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328). In addition to its function as a preaching script, al- Sulami’s work forms part of a tradition of books devoted specifically to the jihād. This genre particularly flourished during the reigns of Nûr al-Din and Saladin. At the same time there was a marked growth of another genre, known as fadail (merits) literature. These works include, in particular, texts extolling the merits of particular cities, including Mecca, Medina, Damascus, and Jerusalem. One of the most influential texts of this type is the Fadā’il al-Bayt al-Muqad- das (Merits of Jerusalem) of the preacher al-Wāsiti (fl. c. 1019). His work was copied, quoted from, and summarized throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Another important work of this type is the Fadā’il Bayt al-Maqdis (Merits of Jerusalem) of Ibn al-Murajja (fl. 1130s).

Geographical Works and Travel Literature

The tenth century saw a flourishing of geographies of the known world in both Arabic and Persian, and such works continued to be written throughout the crusading period. One particularly important work of this type is al-Masālik wa’l-Mamālik ( The Roads and Kings), written by the Andalusian polymath Abû ‘Ubayd al-Bakri (d. 1094). Another equally important work from further east is KitābNuzhat al-Mushtāq ft Ikhtirāq al-Afāq (The Book of Desired Amusement in Crossing the Horizons), by al-Idrisi (d. c. 1165). Al- Idrisi lived under Norman rule in the kingdom of Sicily and wrote his work as a key to a large silver planisphere that he had made at the behest of the Norman king Roger II, for which reason it is also often known as Kitāb Rujār ( The Book of Roger). Related to these wide-ranging geographies are smaller-scale topographical surveys, of which the best known is a survey of Egypt, Kitāb al-Mawaiz wa’l-I‘tibār bi- Dhikr al-Khitat wa’l-Athār (The Book of Exhortations and Learning by Example in Mentioning Districts and Remains, often referred to simply as the Khitat) by the scholar and teacher al-Maqrizi (d. 1442).

Another important genre of Arabic literature from the period is travel literature. A number of travelers active at the time left accounts of their experiences on their journeys. The Spanish traveler Ibn Jubayr (d. 1217) made the hajj (greater pilgrimage) to Mecca in 1183-1185 and left an account of his journey through Egypt, Arabia, Iraq, Syria, and the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, entitled al-Rihla ( The Journey). Another traveler, this time from Tangiers, named Ibn Battûta (d. 1368/1369 or 1377), traveled further east and south, reaching the lands of the Golden Horde, India, and (possibly) China and Niger. His work, Tuhfat al- Nuzzār ft Gharā’ib al-Amsār wa Ajā’ib al-Asfār (The Curiosity of Spectators about the Marvels of Cities and the Wonders of Journeys), is both a travelogue and a description of the world.

Popular Folk Literature

A genre that gives some insights into Muslim views of the crusades is the folk literature popular during the period. This literature remains relatively unstudied, but it is of particular value because it reveals attitudes of ordinary people, whereas most writing from the period was composed by and for the elites of society. The best-known such literature is the Arabian Nights, in which important Muslim figures from the crusading period appear, including Saladin and Sultan Baybars I. Baybars himself was also the subject of an epic cycle, Strat Baybars (The Biography of Baybars). Another important epic from the period is Strat Dhāt al- Himma (The Biography of Dhāt al-Himma). In addition to the names of Muslim rulers, one finds in these works figures with Frankish names, and the texts convey much about Muslim attitudes toward Christianity and the Franks and crusaders.

Legal Texts and Treaties

In addition to the genres mentioned above, there are a number of legal documents and treaties that survive from the period, particularly from the Middle East. There are many archives of original legal documents in the Middle East, and most of these documents have not yet been edited and translated, even though they provide great insight into the actual administration of the Muslim states. In addition, there are surviving treaties from both ends of the Mediterranean, preserved either in their original form or in compilations, most particularly chancery manuals, as models for future use. The most important such chancery manual from the period is the Subh al-A‘shā ft Sinaat al-Insha (The Dawn for the Dim-Sighted on the Art of Correspondence) by the chancery clerk al-Qalqashandī (d. 1418).

Suffixed Curses

A distinctive feature of the Arabic sources of the period merits particular mention. It is common for authors to suffix a curse, such as khadhalahum Allāh (may God forsake them) or laanahum Allāh(may God curse them), to their mentions of the Franks. Uses of suffixed invocations of both God’s blessing and God’s curse may be found in the earliest Muslim sources, and the Qur’ān itself clearly inspired most of the vocabulary that was used for them, but it is only with the onset of the crusades that a widespread tradition of using suffixed curses in this way for a specific enemy emerges. Unfortunately, due to the distribution of the sources, the precise circumstances under which this practice began are murky. Some cursing of the Franks is found in the Kitāb al- Jihād of‘Alī ibn Tāhir al-Sulamī, but it is not until midway through the Dhayl Ta’rikh Dimashq of Ibn al-Qalānisī, in his account of the Islamic year 552 (1157-1158), that clear and consistent use of these curses against the Franks first appears. It is also not evident what provoked his adoption of this usage, as it does not occur during an account of a particularly heinous act by the Franks, nor does he or any other source describe a particularly moving sermon or decree enunciated at the time that might be viewed as the stimulus.

Whatever the original motivation, suffixed invocations of this type continued to be applied to the Franks by many Muslim writers of the crusading period, and it is clear that they became a “label,” probably applied more often out of what soon became standard procedure than from particularly vengeful sentiments toward the Franks. When the Mongol invasions began in the early thirteenth century, the usage was also extended to them, probably because they, like the Franks, were non-Muslims who invaded Muslim territory, settled on the lands they invaded, and continued thereafter to pose a threat to the Muslim world.

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