Subject: Dispelling Myths About the Crusades
An Interview with Professor Thomas Madden: Dispelling Myths About the
dispel some common myths concerning the Crusades. The text of this
interview is transcribed below.
1. Some authors contend the Crusades were wars of aggression against a
peaceful Muslim world. What is your position in this matter?
It is difficult to see how anyone familiar with the sources could make
such a claim. The original goal of the First Crusade, as it was
annunciated in the papal call as well as numerous crusader charters,
to respond to Muslim aggression against Christians in the East and to
restore those lands taken by Muslims to their Christian owners.
2. Many adversaries of the Crusades claim that, although Crusaders wore
crosses and religious symbols, their only goal was to gain riches and
territories. What is your opinion on the matter?
This is a fairly old-fashioned view, now largely rejected by scholars.
It was based on a Victorian experience with colonialism that has no
relationship at all to the medieval Crusades. We now know that
crusading was almost never profitable. Crusaders often impoverished
themselves and their families in order to pay for their expeditions.
Whatever booty they received (and the Crusades were notoriously bad for
plunder) was more than offset by their expenses. The vast majority of
Crusaders had no interest in remaining in the East, but rather
their vows and returned home as soon as they were able.
During the interview, Prof. Madden declared: "I have no doubt that had
there been no Crusades at all that western Europe would have been
conquered by Muslims in much same fashion as southeastern Europe was."
3. Some accuse the Crusades of being a sort of medieval colonialism
disguised in religious trappings. Is this true and could you comment on
Colonialism, if it is to have any meaning at all, requires certain
things: most importantly a mother country that funds and directs the
colonial expansion, a colonial government linked to a home government,
and policy of colonization or exploitation in the colony. The Crusades
had none of these things. No mother country supported the Crusades.
Rather they were funded and undertaken by individuals across
for the benefit of their souls and their co-religionists overseas. The
governments in the Crusaders States were independent, with no direct
ties to any European countries. And the Europeans had no policy of
colonization or exploitation in the East. Rather, the overriding
purpose of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was to safeguard the Holy Places
the lives of Christian pilgrims coming to visit them.
4. Is the following thesis historically defensible: Although the West
lost political control over the Holy Land and the near East after the
seventh and last Crusade, the effort Christians made from the 11th to
the 13th centuries broke the impetus of the Muslim offensive against
Europe and thus prevented the European continent from becoming Islamic
back in medieval times.
No, on several counts. The Seventh Crusade was by no means the last
Crusade. They continued well into the sixteenth century. The famous
Battle of Lepanto in 1571 was a Crusade. Catholics did lose the
mainland, but they held onto Cyprus and Rhodes for centuries. I
it is fair to say, however, that the Crusades did slow the advance of
Muslim Empires â€“ namely the Ottoman Empire â€“ into Europe just long
enough to allow Europeans to effectively defend themselves. I have no
doubt that had there been no Crusades at all that western Europe would
have been conquered by Muslims in much same fashion as southeastern
5. The Fourth Crusade is one of the most maligned of the Crusades. This
is the Crusade you have studied in depth. Could you comment on some of
the myths about the Fourth Crusade?
The biggest myth is that the Crusade was purposely diverted from its
original goal â€“ either by Pope Innocent III or Doge Enrico Dandolo
in order to conquer Constantinople. In fact, on several occasions the
pope forbade the crusaders to go to Constantinople and once they were
there, forbade them to attack the city. It is also not true that the
Crusaders were led to Constantinople by a hatred of the Greeks or an
envy of their empire. Instead, they came to Constantinople at the
invitation of a Greek claimant to the throne, who promised to help them
on their Crusade. The Crusaders only attacked Constantinople after
their Greek friend double-crossed them, refusing to pay their reward or
to join the Crusade. Even then, they only initiated hostilities when
Greeks murdered their former friend and ordered the Crusaders to leave
immediately without reward, support, or even food. The Fourth Crusade
is a tragedy, but it is one in which the Greeks and Latins both played
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