The First Crusade from Various Perspectives

The Crusades are a well known series of religious wars that occurred during the medieval time period, starting in 1095 and ending around 1492. The wars were warranted by the Latin church with the goal of recovering the Holy Land from Islamic rule. The wars were extremely brutal and involved the persecution of pagans throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. The Muslim community was disproportionately targeted by the Christian and the bulk of the wars consisted of Christian versus Muslim conflict. To the Christians, these wars were God’s will and would bring them forgiveness for all of their confessed sins, ensuring them a place in heaven. The series of Crusades were chronicled through many sources from all different areas and religions, some of which can be used to draw historical context and information from. 

The Song of Roland, written by an unknown author, is one of such texts based on the Battle of Roncevaux Pass under the reign of Charlemagne. The book details the conflict between Charlemange’s Frankish army and the Saracen army of King Marsile, and the Christian’s struggle to conquer Saragossa. The main character is King Charlemagne’s nephew, Roland whose heroic death is highlighted in the novel and is followed by redemption. The author chooses to use the fictionalized Frankish and Saracen army in the novel, based on the actual conflict between the Christians and the Muslims. 

The book, told from the Christian point of view, glorifies the persecution of the pagans and celebrates their defeat. Unlike a typical historical text, The Song of Roland is structured as an epic poem rather than a factual recap of events, leaving a lot of room for embellishment and emotion. The language of the text stresses the violent yet courageous acts of the Frankish army under God’s will. The text also really stresses the barbaric nature of the pagan army through the way that both their appearance and actions are described. In the novel, the description of one of the pagan characters is “There was no viler man than he in his company. He has evil vices and has committed many great crimes, He does not believe in God, the Song of Holy Mary; He is as black as molten pitch.” (125.1632-35) He is not only condemned for not believing in God but the description of the color of his skin is also intended to spur feelings of darkness and evil. This text really praises the Christian army for their heroic acts and makes the pagans out to be a barbaric group that needs to be vanquished. 

  The primary recaps of the crusades, written by people directly affected by these events, also leave a lot of room for bias and glorification of such events. Two different accounts of the first crusade provide two very different perspectives on the series of events. The first, told from the Christian perspective of Fulcher of Chartres who was the first king of Jerusalem, contains a lot of emotion and justification for the crusades. He states that the “people in the East need help” and believes that if the Christians do not carry out these wars someone else will. In his recap, Chartres talks about the siege of Antioch and Jerusalem. Throughout the text, he describes the losses and hardships of the pagans as God’s punishment and believes that through victory, God was telling the Christians that they were doing the right thing. However, the Christians were not completely exempt from punishment; during the siege of Antioch, the conditions became very hard for the Christians and many of them fled or died. The author claims that “by such suffering they [the Christians] paid for their sins,” (Geary, 358). 

Contrary to the Christian perspectives, the account given by a Mesopotamian intellectual named Ibn Al-Athir provides a lot more historically accurate information and seems to be a lot less biased and dramatic in his description. This perspective contains  lots of dates and numbers rather and a deep qualitative analysis of what happened during the events. To my surprise, there was also little mention of God or religion in the text. The author does not give any information regarding the Christian’s justification for their actions or how the Muslims feel in regards to God and what is happening. 

The series of events given by Al-Athir also differs slightly from The Song of Roland and the Christian account given by Fulcher of Chartres. Athir claims that the person that decided to turn against the city of Antioch during the siege, leading to the Christian’s victory and conquest of the city, was bribed with money. However, the Christians say that God came to this individual several times through a series of visions. God told the man that he needs to help the Christians invade the city. Personally, it is much easier for me to believe that this man was bribed into doing what he did rather than spoken to by God. It is small details such as these that lead me to believe that the Muslim account of what happened during the first crusade is much more accurate than the story told from the Christian perspectives. 

The Muslim account of the first crusade given bt Ibn Al-Athir is the closest description of actual events. This perspective, containing little to no emotion, does not reference divine intervention or the will of God. Rather, he highlights the series of events that actually took place and gives a lot of important details such as how many men died in the various situations and the dates of different events. This perspective allowed me to grasp the most information and actually understand what happened in the first crusade. Both The Song of Roland and the Christian perspective of the crusade provided me with a lot of information as to why the Crusades were carried out and what was going on in the Christian mind during this time. However, the emotion and intensity with which these texts are written leave me questioning their credibility in giving an accurate account of what actually happened.

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