The Crusades, a clash of civilizations?

The Crusades, a clash of civilizations?

There is often a tendency to reduce the Crusades to an armed clash between two blocs that are defined according to their religion, one step in the long.clash of civilizations »Between the West and Islam,… However, how can we not imagine that a presence of almost two centuries of the Latins in the East could also have created other types of relations than war, for example economic exchanges but perhaps also cultural? How was the cohabitation between Latins and Muslims, and how did each see the Other?

A certain isolation of the "Franks"

We cannot deny a real marked distinction between the victors and the vanquished (in the aftermath of the First crusade), based on origin and religion. The Latins are mainly clustered in the cities, their number increased by regular waves of immigration, reaching the figure of around 120,000 on the eve of Hattîn (1187). Muslims are therefore in the majority in the countryside, with Sunnis in the west and Shiites in the east. They have little connection with the Druze, who are present between Sidon and Hermon. The other populations present are obviously the Christians of the East and the Jews. The Latins logically try to get closer to the first, but without real success. Eastern Christians remain organized according to their own clergy, and obey only them; the Latins are opposed above all to the Orthodox Greeks, in the majority with the Monophysite Jacobites, and who depend on Constantinople.

They prefer Syrian Christians (or Syriacs), or even Gregorian Armenians, even if the latter also value their independence. In fact, only the Maronites seem to have good relations with the Franks (in 1182, the Maronite and Roman churches merged); indeed, the latter show great intransigence by imposing their ecclesiastical hierarchy, by taking over churches, so that a few generations after the First Crusade, it is not rare to see Eastern Christians supporting Muslims against The crusaders ! The society is therefore compartmentalized, on ethnic and religious bases, like the cross-sectional society itself very stratified.

An "orientalization" of the Franks?

While there is no real mix between these groups, the encounter is however daily and not necessarily hostile. Crusader lords learn Arabic (like Renaud de Chatillon), mainly to avoid using dragomaniacs, mostly Eastern Christians, and of whom they are suspicious. Likewise, they adopt certain local customs in their daily life, such as the use of rich and colorful clothes, the use of steam rooms or the consumption of more spicy food; this is mainly the case with "Foals", born there.

This "orientalization" can be seen even in Frankish palaces, such as that of Jean Ibelin in Beirut at the beginning of the 13th century: the best craftsmen in the region, whether Greek, Syrian or Muslim, decorated it with jets of water. water, mosaics and paintings which give it a real oriental character. The adaptation is also done in the war, the Franks being obliged to give up their heavy armor because of the heat, using cotton scarves to protect themselves from the sun, while at the same time the Muslims salute the strength of their swords… Foucher de Chartres (chaplain of Baldwin I) affirms in the 1120s that the Franks have become Orientals, “Palestinians or Galileans”, that they have even forgotten the place of their birth! He evokes marriages with locals, including converted Muslim women (whose number is to be put into perspective). This colt society, however, retains a feeling of superiority over the natives (Muslims or Christians), and even over the Westerners who land in the Holy Land, seen as a little crude, intolerant and ignorant people! Westerners are shocked by the promiscuity of their "cousins" with the locals, Muslims in particular ... Clergymen find the Colts too effeminate and accuse them of treating their wives like Muslims, by locking them up! They would also be too tolerant towards the Infidels and it is even reproached (around 1180) to the Patriarch of Jerusalem Heraclius to wear perfume and to dress sumptuously ...

Overall, however, the Franks ’“ orientalization ”is quickly reaching its limits. The Latins, grouped together in their towns and fortresses, remained above all attached to feudal and chivalrous society, and kept their taste for courtly literature and noble pleasures such as falcon hunting or tournaments. Adopting certain oriental customs is almost of an "exotic" character ...

Muslims under Frankish rule

As we have seen, they are in the majority in the countryside. They keep the same operation, with villages controlled by a raïs, but must pay a poll tax, which only non-Muslims previously paid, but also a property tax. The raïs represents the village facing the lord, integrating the local system with feudalism imported from the West; he also levies taxes. In matters of justice, if the cadis are suppressed in some places, Muslims can swear on the Koran and be judged according to their law most of the time, except in cases involving a Frank. There are also no (or very few) forced conversions, and while mosques are turned into churches, Muslims retain some freedom of worship. It's a kind of "dhimma reversed ”. We even see an emir sent as ambassador to Jerusalem being invited by the Templars to pray in the al-Aqsa mosque, transformed into a church. Finally, the Crusaders only hire Christians from the locals for their army, service not being compulsory for Muslims under their rule.

However, these relationships should not be idealized: marriages between foals and Muslims are very rare, the latter being more intended for domestic slavery; miscegenation, when it takes place, is more with Eastern Christians. Likewise, conversions to Christianity are rare, when they happen it is often to avoid death, as is the case with the Turks, who soon form a cavalry for the Frankish armies: the "turcoples". Saladin will execute them like the Templars at Hattîn in 1187 ...

Cultural exchanges?

It should be specified immediately, Syria-Palestine is not as central as Sicily or Andalusia with regard to cultural exchanges between Western Christians and Muslims (and Easterners in a broader sense), on the contrary economic exchanges. There are however a few signs, sometimes localized, such as those between Antioch and Pisa in the 12th-13th centuries.

This is explained first of all by the compartmentalisation of the two societies that we have mentioned and by the fear of a minority and illiterate Frankish population of being "swallowed up" by the majority (Muslim but also Christian), including at the cultural level. . Obviously, the context of quasi-permanent war does not help either: the Other is seen as a permanent enemy. Moreover, the region is also not endowed with great cultural centers, as could be Constantinople, Alexandria, or even Baghdad (before the Mongols) and obviously Cordoba or Toledo.

However, an adaptation and a certain mixing is necessary, and we know of some not insignificant examples of intellectual production, even if they do not have the scale and the importance of what was done in Spain or in Sicily. We must obviously mention William of Tire, an essential marker of intellectual life in the Latin States: Archbishop of Tire and Chancellor of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, he is the main Latin source for the end of the 12th century thanks to his "History"; he is in the lineage of Foucher de Chartres and his work intends to awaken the ardor of the Latins against the Muslims, and to seek the aid of the West in this troubled period of the 1180s; he was probably an Arabist.

Then we have the works of translators; Indeed, Arabic is known by the Latins, it is even the language of communication of the Colts: this affects lords, clerics or members of military orders, and the presence of Muslims (like doctors) in the courts Franks is not uncommon. One can quote the translation of the treaty of Thabit ibn Qurra by Adelard of Bath, in Antioch, under the title of "Liber Prestigiorum", in the years 1120; the same translator would also have allowed the transmission of works of astrology, geography or the "Elements" of Euclid. We can also cite Stephen of Pisa and his translation of al-Abbas al-Majusi's “Kital al-Malaki”, or his addition of an alphabetical catalog to the Greek medical work of Dioscorides.

Technology transfers

Contacts and possible transfers also take place in the technical field. At the time of the Crusades, the East was much more advanced than the West in a number of areas; this is mainly the case with the use of water, even if the sources are too little talkative to be able to attest to a real technology transfer. However, it seems that there has been an exchange of techniques for cultivating sugar cane, with a significant impact in the West. It was the Venetians, then Frederick II, who mainly enabled it to flourish. Other areas could be mentioned, such as stone bridges, but on this point it is less certain that the influence on the West was decisive. The East is also ahead of the transmission of news by carrier pigeons, but if they were used by rulers in the Holy Land, this was not the case in the West: so there was no "Transfer". Likewise, despite a historiographical debate, it would appear that the Eastern windmill system was transmitted to the West rather by North Africa and Spain than by the Crusades.

The other technical field where there is an interface is obviously the military: the Latins are interested in the techniques of siege of Muslims (but also of the Byzantines), as well as their fortresses. Thus, the famous Château-Gaillard built in France by Richard the Lionheart would be inspired by the fortified castles of the Holy Land.

Cross-art: "colonial" or syncretic?

“The art of the Crusaders” presents more interesting points: is it a “colonial art”, or on the contrary the use of local artisans (Christians first, but also sometimes Muslims) gives it- Does it have an original, even “syncretic” character? The art of the Crusaders is above all an art of pilgrimage, then a military art through the need to build defenses. Thus, the network of fortifications erected at the beginning of the 12th century is of strong Byzantine inspiration, but without losing its Western influence.

The syncretism is even more marked in religious architecture: it was in the 12th century that the region experienced an explosion in the construction of religious buildings (more than 400 churches in the kingdom of Jerusalem alone); The art is first of the Romanesque style, but also of Byzantine, even Islamic influence. Islam is present in decorative patterns, pointed arches or flat roofs with terraces. This cross art is partly transmitted in the West, in Puglia for example. In any artistic field considered, and whoever the commissioner, cross-art is done by Western and Eastern artists, admittedly predominantly Christian, but it cannot in the end be regarded as a simple "colonial art". This movement was then confirmed in the 13th century, in particular in military architecture, as we have seen above.

The gaze on the Other

This contact, even compartmentalized or in a context of real or latent conflict, leads one to wonder how the Other is seen, and if this image has evolved over time during the period of the existence of the Latin States.

In the West, Muslims are seen as either hostile or satirical, even with settlement in the Holy Land and direct contact (which had previously only been extended in Spain). In the 12th century, legendary stories circulated, such as "The Life of Mahomet" or "The Pleasures of Mahomet", the primary purpose of which was to ridicule the Prophet. He is presented there as an idolater, a pagan, a polytheist and wallowing in lust. Foucher de Chartres even makes him a magician! Pope Celestine III, in 1197, claimed that the Muslims turned the Holy Sepulcher into a brothel, and that the place of Christ's tomb became a stable. Saladin is presented as a devil, blue and grimacing, forced to give in to the strength and the presence of the Christian king. Nevertheless, the East also provokes a certain fascination, even admiration, for its riches and its exotic products but also for its language, as Frederick II states: “One of the reasons for my trip to Jerusalem was to hear these men. call to prayer in their warm language, by invoking Allah ”.

Among Muslims, ignorance is shared. The Franks are seen as barbarians "red-haired as if the fire had burned their austere face, their blue eyes of the same metal as their saber" (Imâd al-Dîn, chancellor of Saladin). The crusaders were considered by the natives above all as invaders, but whose religious motivation they failed to grasp: only their appetite for conquest and wealth would guide them. It was not until the middle of the 12th century that Muslims understood the central place of Jerusalem in the warlike pilgrimage of the Latins, a place that they themselves gave to the Holy City afterwards, in particular with Saladin.

Little by little, however, the Muslims seem to respect the Colts a little more, opposing them to the always crude and barbarian Westerners who never cease to land in the Latin ports, considered as fanatics. This contributes to certain exchanges between Frankish barons and emirs, even if it rarely exceeds the elites of both camps (including religious orders). Nonetheless, a superiority complex remains, with Frankish manners and institutions judged archaic and men a bit silly, too quick to let go of their (fickle) wives, dirty and devoid of a sense of honor. The advance of Muslims in certain fields, for example medicine, probably had a lot to do with it. Muslim doctors could thus intervene at the court of Frankish lords, and it is said that Saladin would have sent some to Baudouin IV to relieve him of his leprosy.

The Latins in the East: a "multicultural" or "colonial" society?

Finally, we can say that the results of the Frankish presence and exchanges with the local population are mixed. The Franks were certainly influenced by the East, Christian or Muslim, in their religious or military art, in the transmission of certain knowledge. They cohabited with the natives, adopted some of their customs and ways of living. But this cohabitation was relative, often superficial with a few exceptions, punctuated by conflicts, a shared condescending vision, an ever-present mistrust.

In addition, it was best exercised at the level of the barons' courts, rarely among the population, the mass and, above all, only went in one direction: the Latins were influenced by the East, of which they have imported some techniques, knowledge or habits and food products, but the reverse is not true whether for Eastern Christians or Muslims. The society was therefore not strictly speaking "colonial", but neither was it "multicultural", in the sense that a new society would have been created out of other different or even opposing ones. Despite the discussions, the transplant did not take hold and the fall of the Crusader States was inevitable.


- "Crusades: Christians against Muslims", Historia, 1995.

- M. BALARD, Les Latins en Orient, XIth-XVth century, PUF, 2006.

- A.M. EDDE, F. MICHEAU, L’Orient au temps des croisades, Flammarion, 2002.

- F. MICHEAU (dir), The relations of the countries of Islam with the Latin world (from the middle of the tenth to the middle of the thirteenth century), Editions Jacques Marseille, 2000.

- M. BALARD, A. DEMURGER, P. GUICHARD, Country of Islam and Latin world Xth-XIIIth century, Hachette, 2000.

- P. JANSEN, A. NEF, C. PICARD, The Mediterranean between the countries of Islam and the Latin world (mid 10th-mid 13th century), Sedes, 2000.

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