Monday, July 14, 2008

A thought-provoking characterization of the First Crusade

From Christopher Tyerman's huge history of the Crusades, God's War (p. 89):

Part revivalism, part politics, part a search for release in personal renewal, both a manipulation of popular beliefs and prejudices common to all social groups and an attempt to channel these towards a narrowly laudable yet essentially familiar and explicable end, the summons to Jerusalem succeeded because it caught the imagination of a society not necessarily ready but psychologically, culturally and materially equipped to answer the call. In the level of official enthusiasm, in the rapidity of popular acceptance, in the extremes of response, in the widespread uncertainty, indifference and regional variation shadowing extravagant and well-publicized bellicosity, 1096 was the 1914 of the Middle Ages.

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Blogger Matthew Gabriele said...

Thanks for posting this! I'd read right by it last time I looked at Tyerman.

It's very wrong but fascinating, nonetheless...

12:18 PM  
Blogger Steve Muhlberger said...


I'd be glad if you'd explain here your "very wrong" characterization.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Matthew Gabriele said...

Sure, Steve. I should say first that I generally really liked Tyerman's book...

The biggest problem here (for me) is that it's so cynical. It treats those who responded as if they didn't have the ability to reason adequately and were "suckered" into it. I don't like the word "manipulation" here. I don't like the suggestion that society was somehow "immature" in 1095, as if Europe could've shaken it off if the pope had just waited a few years. Finally, I don't like the division it suggests between "elite" (clerical) and "popular" (lay) culture. I don't think that distinction, for this period, is really tenable anymore.

I deal with a lot of this, and in much greater depth, in my forthcoming monograph.

3:19 PM  
Blogger Steve Muhlberger said...

Thanks for the further comment and the link to your abstract. I am sure that some of my readers will appreciate that.

When you said "very wrong," I thought you were talking specifically about the quotation I cited. For me, this quotation eerily reflected Ivo Andric's comments on the enthusiasm for war in Europe in 1914. There is a beautiful and terrifying quotation in his novel The Bridge on the Drina, which I can't put my hand on at the moment. But the meaning of that paragraph as I remember was that many of the people of Europe felt unjustifiably like entire heritage of all history was theirs to do with as they wished, and that any great thing that they imagined was possible. Surely the people who actually went on crusade, whether they were suckered or not, were told and believed that what they were doing by going to Jerusalem was an exceptional thing, otherwise why go at all? the Crusaders did not destroy the world to the extent that the World War I generation did, but they destroyed a lot, including many of themselves. All wars are very destructive, and all warriors risk ultimate disappointment, whether they seek personal gain or idealistic goals. But you have to admit that *a lot* of people were very on high idealistic goals in 1096. And I see the same in 1914.

3:47 PM  
Blogger Steve Muhlberger said...

"But you have to admit that *a lot* of people were very on high idealistic goals in 1096." should be "very high on."

3:48 PM  

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