Post-classical history


This book is intended to be the first volume of three, to cover the history of the movement that we call the Crusades, from its birth in the eleventh century to its decline in the fourteenth, and of the states that it created in the Holy Land and in neighbouring countries. I hope in a second volume to give a history and description of the kingdom of Jerusalem and its relations with the peoples of the Near East, and of the Crusades of the twelfth century, and in a third a history of the kingdom of Acre and the later Crusades.

Whether we regard them as the most tremendous and most romantic of Christian adventures or as the last of the barbarian invasions, the Crusades form a central fact in medieval history. Before their inception the centre of our civilization was placed in Byzantium and in the lands of the Arab Caliphate. Before they faded out the hegemony in civilization had passed to western Europe. Out of this transference modern history was born; but to understand it we must understand not only the circumstances in western Europe that led to the Crusading impulse but, perhaps still more, the circumstances in the East that gave to the Crusaders their opportunity and shaped their progress and their withdrawal. Our glance must move from the Atlantic to Mongolia. To tell the story from the point of view of the Franks alone or of the Arabs alone or even of its chief victims, the Christians of the East, is to miss its significance. For, as Gibbon saw, it was the story of the World’s Debate.

The whole story has not often been told in English; nor has there ever been in this country an active school of Crusading historiography. Gibbon’s chapters in the Decline and Fall still, despite his prejudices and the date at which he wrote, well deserve study. More recently we have Sir Ernest Barker’s brilliant summary of the movement, first published in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and W. B. Stevenson’s short but admirable history of the Crusading kingdoms. But the British contribution consists mainly in learned articles, in the edition of oriental sources and in a few unscholarly histories. France and Germany have a larger and longer tradition. The great German histories of the Crusades begin with Wilken’s, published early in the nineteenth century. Von Sybel’s history, first published in 1841, is still of prime importance; and later in the century two fine scholars, Rohricht and Hagenmeyer, not only did invaluable work in the collection and criticism of source-material but themselves wrote comprehensive histories. Of recent years the German tradition has been maintained by Erdmann in his exhaustive study of the religious movements in the West that led to the Crusades. In France, the land from which the greater number of the Crusaders originally came, the interest of scholars was shown by the publication in the middle of the nineteenth century of the main sources, western, Greek and oriental, in the huge Recueil des Historiens des Croisades. Michaud’s vast history had already appeared in the years following 1817. Later in the century Riant and his collaborators in the Societe de l’Orient Latin produced much valuable work. In this century two distinguished French Byzantinists, Chalandon and Brehier, turned their attention to the Crusades; and shortly before the war of 1939 M. Grousset produced his three-volume history of the Crusades, which, in the French tradition, combines wide learning with good writing and a touch of Gallic patriotism. Now, however, it is in the United States that the most active school of Crusading historians can be found, created by D. C. Munro, whose regrettably small literary output belied his importance as a teacher. The American historians have hitherto concentrated on detailed aspects, and none of them has yet attempted a full general history. But they have promised us a composite volume, in which some foreign scholars will join, to cover the whole range of Crusading history. I regret that it has not appeared in time for me to profit by it when writing this volume.

It may seem unwise for one British pen to compete with the massed typewriters of the United States. But in fact there is no competition. A single author cannot speak with the high authority of a panel of experts, but he may succeed in giving to his work an integrated and even an epical quality that no composite volume can achieve. Homer as well as Herodotus was a Father of History, as Gibbon, the greatest of our historians, was aware; and it is difficult, in spite of certain critics, to believe that Homer was a panel. History-writing to-day has passed into an Alexandrian age, where criticism has overpowered creation. Faced by the mountainous heap of the minutiae of knowledge and awed by the watchful severity of his colleagues, the modem historian too often takes refuge in learned articles or narrowly specialized dissertations, small fortresses that are easy to defend from attack. His work can be of the highest value; but it is not an end in itself. I believe that the supreme duty of the historian is to write history, that is to say, to attempt to record in one sweeping sequence the greater events and movements that have swayed the destinies of man. The writer rash enough to make the attempt should not be criticized for his ambition, however much he may deserve censure for the inadequacy of his equipment or the inanity of his results.

I give in my notes the authority for the statements that I make and in my bibliography a list of the works that I have consulted. To many of them my debt is enormous, even if I do not specifically quote them in my notes. The friends who have given me helpful criticism and advice are too numerous to be recorded by name.

A note is needed about the transliteration of names. Where Christian names occur that have an accepted English form, such as John or Godfrey or Raymond, it would be pedantic to use any other form; and I have always tried to use the form most familiar and therefore most acceptable to the average English reader. For Greek words I have used the traditional Latin transliteration, which alone allows for uniformity. Arabic names present a greater difficulty. The dots and rough breathings enjoined by specialists in Arabic make difficult reading. I have omitted them, but hope that my system is nevertheless clear. In Armenian, where k and g, and b and p, arc alternatively correct according to the period or the locality of the word, I have kept to the more ancient equivalent. The French de presents a permanent problem. Except where it can be regarded as part of a definite surname, I have translated it.

In conclusion I should like to thank the Syndics and the Secretary of the Cambridge University Press for their unfailing kindness and help.


London 1950

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!