The Invention of the Crusades. – Review

The Invention of the Crusades. – Review – book review

Thomas F. Madden

The Invention of the Crusades. By Christopher Tyerman. (Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1998. Pp. ix, 170. $40.00.)

“Invention” and “inventing” have become fashionable terms in historical scholarship over the past decade. When a reader spots them in a title (s)he may be reasonably certain that the work will demonstrate that a fundamental concept of history is in fact a figment of someone’s imagination. In this respect, The Invention of the Crusades does not disappoint. Christopher Tyerman argues that the crusades, so long believed to have begun in 1095 with Pope Urban II’s invocation at Clermont, actually began more than a century later in the pontificate of Innocent III. He cannot deny that there were large-scale military expeditions to the Levant in the twelfth century, but the author insists that they were not crusades. In other words, according to Tyerman, what historians have long known as the First, Second, and Third Crusades were nothing of the sort.

The core of this little book is a reprint of Tyerman’s article, “Were There Any Crusades in the Twelfth Century?,” published in 1995. Appended are two other essays. The first, entitled “Definition and Diffusion” is a rambling exposition of additional evidence intended to support the arguments laid out in the article and extend them through subsequent centuries. It is divided into various topics (e.g. “Innocent III,” “Language,” “Secular Law and the Crusader,” and “Crusade and Women”), which have little relationship to each other, and indeed the order of which seems random. This claim is not to say that there are not tidbits of useful information here and there, but Tyerman sometimes seems to lose sight of why he is expounding on a particular point. The second essay, “Proteus Unbound” is a survey of crusade historiography from the sixteenth century to modern times. Except for its last line, “The invention of the crusades began in 1095: it has not ended yet” there is no connection between this essay and the previous two (126). Nevertheless, it is a solid, perceptive, and often cantankerous look at crusade scholarship.

Tyerman is certainly correct that the idea of crusading did not arise fully formed from the head of Urban II at the Council of Clermont. He is also right when he highlights the importance of Innocent III for the creation of a permanent crusading institution. But these observations are scarcely new. What is new is the author’s claim that because crusading in the twelfth century lacked components developed later it does not merit use of the term. He makes no account, however, for the natural evolution of human institutions. The phenomenon that we call the crusades was in a constant state of change. To insist that an institution reach a mature form before it can be named is overly pedantic. If we were to apply the same set of criteria to other areas of history, all would be chaos. England in the tenth century bore little resemblance to itself in the nineteenth century; should we therefore deny its existence before Victoria?

Despite a valiant effort, Tyerman fails to do for the crusades what Susan Reynolds has done for feudalism. Thank goodness.

Thomas F. Madden Saint Louis University

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