The “Crusader” Mascot

Crusading Mascots on Campuses Across the Country: 

High schools, universities, and even professional sporting teams have made use of crusading imagery by making their mascot a crusader. Most teams that identify with the Crusaders want to associate with the ferocity and chivalry embodied by these medieval Christian fighters. However, in the twenty-first century in particular, teams that had previously used Crusading imagery have been compelled to reexamine their choice of representation. Some institutions have found fault with the memory of the Crusades as  violent, making them poor representatives of peaceful Christian brotherhood. Others have found fault with the memory of the Crusades as an example of Christian intolerance, seeing the Christian crusaders as fanatics who needlessly slaughtered those of other religions.  Below is a comprehensive look at the use of Crusading mascots by American colleges and universities and the reasons that brought about change at these institutions.

crusader schools map

Universities That Have Changed Their Crusading Mascot

Eastern Nazarene College (Quincy, MA): The College changed their mascot from the Crusaders to the Lions in May 2009 because, according to college president Corlis McGee, “In today’s world, the term [Crusader] often carries a negative connotation, and there was a growing awareness among ENC students, faculty and alumni that the Crusader no longer represented the positive message of Christian love we aim to share with the world.” See “Case Studies” section below for more information.

Elon University (Elon, NC): In 2000, the Elon University (at the time still known as Elon College) changed its mascot from the “Fighting Christians” to the “Phoenix” as a way to distance itself from religious symbolism as the school was trying to improve ethnic and religious diversity. This mascot change also coincided with the school’s athletic team’s transitioning into Division I for several teams.  See “Case Studies” section below for more information.

Maranatha Baptist University (Watertown, WI): In 2014, Maranatha changed their mascot from Crusaders to Sabercats.

Meredith College (Raleigh, NC): In 2007, the College changed its mascot from Crusaders to Avenging Angels.

Point Loma Nazarene University (San Diego, CA): In 2014, the University changed from the Crusaders to the Sea Lions.

University of the Incarnate Word (San Antonio, TX): In 2007, the University changed their mascot from the Crusader to the Cardinal.

Wheaton College (Norton, MA): In 2000, the College changed its mascot from the Crusaders to the Thunder.  See “Case Studies” section below for more information.

Universities that have Kept their Crusading Mascot

College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, MA)

Evangel University (Springfield, MO)

North Greenville University (Tigerville, SC)

Schools Where There is a Discussion in Progress 

Clarke University (Dubuque, IA): In 2007, the Crusader mascot was changed into a lion named “Cutlass T Crusader,” creating distance between the mascot and the historical phenomenon of crusading.This new mascot got rid of all crusading imagery by creating him as a tiger, but there is still controversy in the name and an ongoing debate about it.

Northwest Nazarene University (Nampa, ID): The University has declared an intent to change mascots, but have no concrete plan to implement change.

Susquehanna University (Selinsgrove, PA): The University is currently in the middle of a multi-stage move away from a crusading mascot.  Susquehanna already changed from a traditional crusader mascot to a tiger called the “Caped Crusader” as a temporary measure, and are now working to drop the crusading theme entirely, with a squirrel as the current frontrunner for the new mascot.

Valparaiso University (Valparaiso, IN): The Crusader mascot is currently the topic of debate, with the president, many alumni, and many faculty supporting a name change. However, there is no specific plan for a new mascot that has been proposed so far.

Case Studies:  

Elon University

Pro Change:  Those in favor of changing the mascot from the “Fighting Christians” to the “Phoenix” wanted to change as a way to distance the school from religious symbolism as it was trying to the improve ethnic and religious diversity of its student body. George Keller describes in his book, Transforming A College: The Story of a Little-Known College’s Strategic Climb to National Distinction that the college took steps toward secularizing starting in 1976 under President Fred young when it “changed its charter from being ‘under the general control’ of the United Church of Christ to being ‘affiliated with’ the church” (Keller, 11). With this change, came much secularization including that of the mascot. The issue with the association of Christianity and the college had nothing to do with the violence of the image, but rather that Elon was no longer a place where all students identified as Christians, but rather a place that saw itself as promoting tolerance, including religious tolerance.  Detractors of the “Fighting Christian” mascot also found image associated with it to be distasteful.  In addition, the change in mascot coincided with many athletics teams of Elon rising to Division I of the NCAA, making it an opportune time for the school to revisit its image.

Against Change: While there is not a lot of evidence of distaste for changing the mascot, some feared that the school losing its Christian ties in general would lead to a “possible defection of some of the loyal, older graduates and the snipping of the college’s Christian roots” (Keller, 20). To appease these factions, Young established the Elon Experiences program, which promoted service among other values, and was meant to and made them the modern college’s equivalent of olt-time religious inculcation” (Keller, 21)

Outcome: In 2000, under the leadership of President Leo M. Lambert, Elon University (at the time still known as Elon College) changed its mascot from the “Fighting Christians” to the “Phoenix.” Even faculty who were indifferent to changing the mascot, like president emeritus Earl Danieley, seemed please with the new mascot, which reference a fire that incinerated the school’s campus in 1923.



Eastern Nazarene College

Pro Change:  Eastern Nazarene College’s primary reason for wanting to change its mascot was the violence that the crusader represented.  College President Collis McGee stated that “the Crusader no longer represented the positive message of Christian love we aim to share with the world.”  ENC Alumnus and former member of the Crusaders basketball team Dr. Mark H. Mann went further, expressing his gladness that the college was “disassociating {itself} from the atrocities of the medieval Crusaders.”  To the people of Eastern Nazarene College, the crusader had clearly become an image of violence and barbarism.

Against Change:  Unlike the situations at some other schools, the Mascot change at Eastern Nazarene College was handled in an orderly fashion with little to no controversy.  The administration had sensed that it was time for a change, and established a committee, which found a solution that took into account the views of students, faculty, and alumni.

Outcome: On May 13, 2009, Eastern Nazarene College announced that it had changed its mascot from the Crusaders to the Lions.  According to feedback, the campus generally felt that the Lion did as good a job as the Crusader at representing the qualities of courage and strength, without the Crusader’s negative implications.

Wheaton College

Pro Change: As an Evangelical institution, Wheaton College was largely motivated to rename its mascot by its pro-peace values.   After a 1998 editorial in the college’s newspaper criticized the mascot’s glorification of a particularly bloody time in Christian history, Wheaton College President Duane Litfin embarked on a two-year study of the history of the Crusades.  “I came to realize that those were not very happy episodes in Christianity. They are not something we want to glorify,” Litfin said.[1]  In a four-page memo of the subject, Litfin argued that he was “hard-pressed to find anything in these disastrous waves of fighting that our Lord might have approved, despite the fact that the conflict was ostensibly carried out in his name.”[2]

Against Change:  Though Litfin’s research into the Crusades drove him to oppose the Crusader mascot, his decision received some pushback. James Powers, a history professor at Holy Cross University (which uses the Crusaders as a mascot) took a more relativist approach to history of the crusades, telling the Los Angeles Times, “Nothing is all good or all bad. Should we condemn Renaissance art as an indirect byproduct of Crusade prosperity?”[3] and pointing out that almost all mascots carry some violent connotations, “Almost any [mascot] you’re likely to pick has injured or hurt someone. Must Detroit drop its Lions mascot because lions are eaters of human beings and other animals?”[4]

Outcome:  In the spring of 2000, Wheaton College announced that it would no longer be using the Crusaders mascot.  The name disappeared from athletic facilities and the campus bookstore halted the sale of Crusaders memorabilia.  The following fall, Wheaton College announced “The Thunder” as its new mascot.[5]  This mascot has stuck, though Wheaton now also uses a mastodon as its unofficial mascot in acknowledgement of a mastodon skeleton found near campus and housed in the school’s science building.[6]

[1] Spencer, LeAnn. “Go Cherubs? Wheaton School Rethinks Mascot.” Chicago Tribune 25 Apr. 2000: n. pag. Chicago Tribune. Chicago Tribune. Web. 30 May 2016.

[2]  Rivenburg, Roy. “Save the Crusaders? They Haven’t Got a Prayer.” Los Angeles Times 19 July 2000: 2. Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times. Web. 30 May 2016.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5]  “Wheaton College Picks Mascot to Replace `Crusaders'” Beliefnet. Beliefnet, 2 Oct. 200. Web. 30 May 2016.

[6]  “Stertorous “Tor” Thunder.” Wheaton College. Wheaton College, n.d. Web. 30 May 2016.


Lessons From Current Mascot Controversies:

Based on the current dispositions of the 14 American schools that have used crusader mascots, as well as in depth looks at Elon University, Eastern Nazarene College, and Wheaton College in particular, it is possible to establish a few facts about the public’s current view of the crusades.

The image of the crusaders is currently a relatively negative one.  79% of schools with crusader mascots have either already changed them, or are currently under significant pressure to do so, with detractors of the image citing a variety of reasons that it should be changed.  One major issue is that the crusader carries an implication of religious intolerance, as they were an aggressively Christianizing force.  Most agree that institutions of higher education should strive to be as tolerant of differing views and religions as possible, putting the crusader mascot at odds with that mission.  Others take issue with the violence of the crusades, characterizing the crusaders as violent barbarians who committed atrocities.  For schools trying to present their Christianity with a message of love and peace, this connotation is unacceptable.

There have been some pro-crusades voices, which have mainly emphasized two points in favor of keeping crusading mascots.  The first, having little to do with the crusades in particular, is simply a concern that changing the school’s mascot undermines the shared identity and connection of university traditions that bind together past and present students.  The second is a description of the positive qualities associated with the crusaders, namely their bravery and strength.  Further evidence that these characteristics are key to modern perception of the crusaders can be found in the mascots that generally replace the crusader.  By far the most common is the lion; 71% of schools that have removed their crusader mascots have switched to a lion or similar big cat.  Given that lions carry associations with courage and strength, they are seen as an acceptable substitute for the crusader.  Notably absent from defenses of crusader mascots has been discussion of the quality of chivalry.  Even the supporters of crusader mascots appear sufficiently cognizant of the whitewashing of medieval life to be hesitant to ascribe classic knightly chivalry to the crusaders.  This definitely represents a change in though from earlier times, when chivalry would have been a great defense of the crusader as a good representative.

On the whole, the mascot controversy paints the picture of the crusader as a courageous warrior who is also violent and religiously intolerant – a net negative to most most people.

Historical Memory and Campus Politics

Looking at the usage of religiously associated mascots brings up a larger question of how the memory of particular historical events in the modern era can lead to controversy over particular images and people that they might insult people today. This controversy strikes everywhere from high schools to national franchises. On college campuses, associating historical events with the facades and fabrics of educational institutions has become particularly hazardous. Disputes have arisen over mascots, building names, and monuments ( rooted in the history of particular groups of people or events.

Images associated with the Crusades are not the only ones to have come under fire in recent years for the divisive and sometimes offensive memories they evoke. Mascots associated with the history of Native Americans and the Civil War have been particularly contentious images in the past decade at colleges. Schools including Dartmouth College, Stanford University, Syracuse University, and Colgate University have abandoned their Native American mascots in favor of ones not associated with any historical memory. In January of 2016, Amherst College announced a decision to ditch their mascot ( known as “Lord Jeff” because the British colonial governor was involved in a plot to bring small-pox infected blankets to Native Americans and is seen as an overall symbol of white subjugation of other races. In a letter ( explaining their issues with “Lord Jeff,” The Association of Amherst Students writes that the “problematic nature of the Lord Jeff comes not from the outcome of his noxious suggestion [of inventing Native Americans with small pox] but from the suggestion itself and the intense, underlying racism it betrays.” Interestingly, the Association is not concerned with actual historical accuracies, but the connotations tied to Lord Jeff’s actions. In their letter, the Association does not propose in their letter for change an idea for a new mascot, but does state the selection must be a democratic process. Traveling down the coast from Amherst to universities in the south, a battle rages on some campuses over the use of Civil War imagery for mascots. At the University of Mississippi (, there was a heated debated over the removal of the Confederacy-associated mascot Colonel Reb ( Not only was there pressure to remove the mascot because of the racial tension tied into the association with the Confederacy, but there was even concern on the campus that the mascot was hurting the recruitment of players with its racist associations. [1] In 2010, the school decided to change its mascot the anthropomorphic black bear, an animal associated with President Teddy Roosevelt’s visits to Mississippi [2].

The existence of such prevalent controversy on college campuses comes from varying memories associated with historical events. College campuses are particularly because there are diverse student bodies and faculties, which inevitably leads to diverse memories as well. [2] Most college administrations feel the need to remedy controversy when it is brought up to them by student groups concerned with civil rights or even take proactive measures to prevent such controversies. In the case of school mascots, administration more often than not turn away from finding more acceptable interpretations of history and instead to images that are practically immune from any and all cristicism. [459]

[1] Megan L. Bever, “Fuzzy Memories: College Mascots and the Struggle to Find Appropriate Legacies of the Civil War,” Journal of Sport History 38 (3). University of Illinois Press: 458, accessed May 30, 2016.

[2] Ibid., 457

[3] John B. Rhode, “The Mascot Name Change Controversy: A Lesson in Hypersensitivity,” Marquette Sports Law Review, Volume 5, Issue I (1994), 142, accessed May 30, 2016.


Saracen Mascots:

While not common in the United States, the practice of using the Saracen as a mascot has been taken up by several British rugby clubs.  Despite the fact that nearly every one exhibits egregious examples of cultural appropriation, none have been the topic of any significant controversy.

The Crusades and the Development of Militant Islam


Modern Islamism, or political Islam, is the product of the decolonization process and decades of political frustration in the Arab Islamic world. Modern Islamism is a political ideology that seeks to blend governance with religious law and seek to incorporate religious principles into everyday life. Militant Islam, the armed, radical version of Islamism, seeks to reinstall the Islamic caliphate and revitalize the Arab Islamic world to its former glory.

While this ideology of Islamism and Caliphates have been around since Muhammad’s first community of believers, the emergence of nationalism and self-determination in the 1800s reignited a belief in an Islamic caliphate future. In 1798, Napoleon’s invasion and swift defeat of Egypt sent shockwaves throughout the Arab Islamic world. Scholars, both secular and religious, tried to reconcile how the Arab Islamic world had fallen so far behind European military and economic power. For secular scholars, the future laid in modernization and democratic values, while for Islamists, the future laid in a return to Islamic rules of governance and morality.

During the decolonization process of the 1900s, secular nationalism and Islamist ideology rose to extreme prominence throughout the Arab Islamic world. Egypt, as the cultural and political leader of the Arab Islamic world, chose Gamal Abdul Nasser to lead Egypt into a secular, Arab-nationalist future. His vision of a technologically and culturally modern society captured the hearts and minds of people throughout the Arab world and galvanized the streets to overthrow the British-supported Egyptian king. But despite his optimistic and democratic vision for Egypt’s future, Nasser’s authoritarian crackdown on political dissenters and his failure to modernize the Egyptian economy turned Egyptian people against him. Additionally, the brutal defeat during the Six Day War with Israel also disillusioned the Egyptian and the previous supporters of Arab nationalism. With this ideological vacuum, Islamists throughout the country were able to garner massive amounts of support.

Under Nasser’s oppressive rule, several key scholars like Sayyid Qutb were jailed and silenced. But despite Nasser’s attempt at oppression, the Islamist organizations’ (like the Muslim Brotherhood) ability to provide necessary social services like handing out bread, when the state had continually failed them, won the support of Egyptians throughout the country. Coupled with the disillusionment following the totalizing defeat at the hands of Israel during the Six Day War, the Islamists began to garner popular ideological and literal support by promising a revitalization of the Islamic Caliphate and Arab Islamic society. Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood wrote, “Rebuilding the international prominence of the Islamic Umma by liberating its lands, reviving its glorious past, bringing closer the cultures of its regions and rallying under one word. Until once again the long awaited united and the lost Khilafah is returned.” This quotation provides insight into the goals of militant Islam. While Hassan al Banna was not militant, future scholars use his words and his ideas in order to motivate and inspire their soldiers.

This post will first outline the legacy of the Crusades in Militant Islam and how Militant Islamists understand foreign intervention in the Arab Islamic world. The next section will outline how the ideology of Militant Islam is a reaction to foreign intervention in the Middle East (what these Islamists call ‘Crusading interventions’). And our last section will outline how Militant Islamists draw upon the legacy and memory of these Crusading interventions to instill fear and cooperation in Muslims who reside in territories under Militant Islamist control.

Brief Visual Feature: Historic/Geographic Context

What is the legacy of the Crusades in Militant Islam?

The memory and legacy of the Crusades is most salient in the Islamist view of history. For this group of scholars and leaders, the Crusades are not a thing of the past. Rather, the Crusades represent an ongoing conflict between East and West, Islamdom and Christendom. Rather than viewing the Crusades as a singular, monolithic historical event, Islamists like Sayyid Qutb see the Crusades as a never-attending Western quest to subdue and control the Muslim world. This conception of historical events is directly contrasted with the secular, Arab nationalists like Gamal Abdul Nasser’s memory of the past. Saladin the movie represents the Arab nationalist view of the Crusades as a secular, colonial conflict. The film even shows a Christian soldier fighting on behalf of the Arabs in an attempt to dispel the religious component of the war. This understanding of the Crusades informs the way in which Nasser and his supporters understood the Western interventions in the Arab world–secular, colonial interventions based on greed and political control. This understanding is in direct opposition to the Islamist understanding of the Western interventions and sheds some light onto why the Islamists needed to reframe the East-West conflict and continually use Crusading language to remind Muslims of the long past of Christian Crusading intervention in the Muslim world.

To begin, two of the fundamental tenets of Islam, the ummah and tawhid, stresses the importance of oneness in the Islamic world: oneness with God, oneness with the Islamic community, and oneness of faith. Ummah, meaning community or the community of believers, is one of the most important components of the way Islamists see their community, while tawhid, meaning oneness, stresses the importance of coherence and unity within the community of the believers. As two of the Prophet Muhammad’s central teachings, these two ideas together emphasize the importance of unity within the Islamic world. Therefore, discord or division within the Islamic world is a great sign of weakness or impending disaster. Islamists stress the importance of the Caliphate based on this Islamic principle. Only under a unified, Islamic government can the lands and people of Islam be once again reunited. Under this understanding of ummah, the Crusades (and the attempt to establish a Crusader state in the Islamic heartland) should be considered as one of the most heretical interventions in the history of Islam. Following, the 1798 invasion of Egypt, the memory of the Crusades (which had been somewhat forgotten) became a new lens to view foreign intervention and foreign invasion of the Islamic world. The following section will outline some of the Western interventions in the Islamic world and provide insight into how Islamist leaders and scholars use the legacy of the Crusades to contextual these events and  catalyze Muslim support.

"Saladin" (1963), an Egyptian film.

“Saladin” (1963), an Egyptian film.


The French invasion of Algeria in 1830 directly brought the Crusades back to the contemporary political discourse. Scholar Jean-Louis Triaud explains that anti-Islam sentiment has been alive in France since the Crusades but also that “the hostility to Islam in France also has roots–and this is something that has been recognized less well–in the direct heritage of the French Revolution and the republic; namely, in the spirit accompanying the separation between church and state.” This East-West engagement laid important groundwork for our present understanding of militant Islam. Militant Islam is reacting both to the “secular” fear of Islam as well as the religious condemnation of Islam. Both secular and religious sides condemned Islam for its monolithic control of the Middle East and therefore used targeted Muslims and political Islam through invasion and occupation.

In a prayer for the soldiers in Algeria, the archbishop of Aix-en-Provence, mixed just war language with Crusading ideology and language preaching:

If there was ever a just war…it is that which is prepared today against the perfidious and cruel enemy of the Christian name in Africa. It is to avenge the repeated insults made on our flag; it is to efface the shame of the tribute paid until today to the tyrant of Algiers by Christian nations; it is to assure the freedom of the seas to our commerce; it is to deliver from Moslem slavery the unfortunate navigators who frequent these vicinities. [It is for all this] that our august monarch has seized the sword that God has confided him to defend and protect his people.

The archbishop’s mix of crusading and Just War language sheds light on the ideological legacy of the Crusades. The language of the sword of God calls to mind the blessed instruments of war Crusaders used to wage war in the Holy Land. In addition, his reference to Christians under Muslim slavery also calls to mind the Pope Urban II’s calling of the First Crusade, where he (allegedly) listed the Christian suffering under Muslim leaders as one of the several reason to wage war on Muslim leaders.
This Crusading language was not lost on the Algerian Muslim and the following Muslim response illustrates the crucial role this East-West, Crusader-Muslim divide plays in the development of militant Islam. It is not difficult to see how the Muslims considered this event another Christian Crusade against the Muslim peoples. In his analysis of the Algerian invasion, scholar Benjamin Claude Bower writes, “seeking supporters from the interior of the country, [Abd al-Qadir] told people to see the French landings in Algiers and the occupation of Algeria’s Mediterranean port through the optic of jihad. France did not represent a new version of the occasional power of the Ottoman…but was a non-Muslim invader that all Algerian Muslims were obliged to resist under his banner.” In this call to jihad, Abd al-Qadir establishes the relationship between Western Crusading intervention and jihad. al-Qadir, like Saladin and other Muslim rulers before him, drew upon Islam rather than nationalism or ethnic unity in order to fend off foreign invasion. This call to arms should be considered as a direct response to the archbishop of Aix-en-Provance’s call to Crusade and the secular French leaders opposition to the unity of Islamic governance. By continuing to draw upon the Christian-Muslim framework established by the archbishop, al-Qadir unwittingly laid the groundwork for the use of militant Islam against colonial and apostatic rulers. In a century’s time, Islamic militants in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and again in Algeria, will all echo Abd al-Qadir’s call to jihad against Christian/Western forces.

The British and French occupation of the Islamic Caliphate

Following the French invasion of Algeria, scholars around the Arab Islamic world continued to see the French occupation of Algeria as another Crusader expedition. While Arab Muslims next fought for independence against the Ottomans, the next great Western intervention would come during World War I with the Sykes-Picot agreement. This secret agreement between the French and the British during WWI divided the Middle East and became effective as soon as the war ended. Palestine, Transjordan (contemporary Jordan and Iraq), and Egypt went to the British, while the French took control of al-Sham (modern day Syria and Lebanon). The Sykes-Picot agreement divided up the Middle East along arbitrary lines, often neglecting natural boundaries–and more importantly, boundaries based on linguistic, ethnic, cultural, or religious communities. According to Islamists, this division of the Islamic world is one of the most heretical interventions by Western powers. Based on Islamists understanding of the umma or the Islamic nation, the British and French division of the Middle East inherently breaks apart the singularity and unity of the Islamic caliphate. Not only did the Sykes-Picot agreement dissolve the Ottoman Islamic caliphate, but it also divided the Islamic world along arbitrary political boundaries. Islamic fundamentalists consider this another attempt of Crusader nations to split up and weaken the Islamic caliphate. These Islamists also consider the rulers of the postcolonial nations as illegitimate because their power is divided from the artificial nation states.

The Creation of the Zionist-Crusader Alliance

Following the colonial periods of the British mandate and the French protectorate, the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 also served as another symbol of the West’s continuation of their crusading mission. While many Europeans and Americans consider the foundation of the state of Israel as the return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland, Islamists and Palestinians alike see another colonial occupation of the Arab Islamic world. American and European support for the state of Israel added further flame to the fire, creating what many Islamic militants call the “Crusader-Zionist alliance.” Osama bin Laden reframes the Arab-Israeli conflict as the “Zionist-Crusader war against the Ummah of Islam.”

For Sayyid Qutb, one of the most fundamental scholars involved in the development of militant Islam, these Western interventions exist as a part of the long history of the Crusades. One scholar notes that, “In his writings, ‘the Crusades’ are an ancient and perpetual antagonism, unconfined by specifics of time and place.” For Qutb, the legacy of the Crusades and the Crusades are one in the same. The Crusades are an ever-continuing war of East vs. West, Christian society vs. Islamdom. In his collapsing of the specific historical and environmental contexts in which the Crusades arose, Qutb paints the Crusades as deep, festering wounds in the hearts and minds of Islamic society. Qutb’s view of history is extremely important to understanding the development of militant Islamic ideology and the context from which it arose. By positioning the Western interventions as part of an unfinished history of Crusading, Islamists bring the infractions against the Islamic ummah into much closer perspective. This Crusader-Islamdom framework envisions the Crusades as a lingering, festering wound in the heart of Arab Islamic homeland, further galvanizing Muslim populations against Western intervention. Such a view of history collapses time and space in order to frame multiple conflicts under one umbrella: Christian/Zionist vs. Muslim. This conception of history is key to understanding the context from which militant Islam develops because Islamists develop militant Islam as a reaction to these fundamental conceptions of history.

The legacy of the Crusades emerges in rhetoric used by modern-day leaders.

The legacy of the Crusades emerges in rhetoric used by modern-day leaders.

The Development of Militant Islam as a Reaction to the Ongoing Legacy of the Crusades

Based on this Crusading understanding of Western involvement in the Middle East, fundamentalist Islamic scholars developed the ideology of Militant Islam as a reaction to the repeated Crusader involvement in the Islamic ummah. Under the ostentatious rule of King Farouk of Egypt, Islamists and Nationalists alike honed in on their different ideologies. Modernists, who advocated for the modernization of Arab society in congruence with Islamic principles, looked to Europe and the US as model societies and the keys to unlocking a prosperous and thriving future. While they considered the US and Europe to be sometimes morally bankrupt, they admired their technological advancements and popular democracies. Scholars like Taha Hussein sought to re-envision Egypt, based on its ancient past, as a fundamental part of Western civilization. He therefore argued that the modernization and technological advancement are definitive parts of Egyptian society. In the Islamist camp, Islamist scholars like Sayyid Qutb and Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, sought a return to the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphs under the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. These scholars considered the time of the Prophet to be the most powerful period of Islamic history and that only a strict adherence to the norms outlined in the Qu’ran and Hadith would reinstate this Islamic golden age.

Delving further into the ideology of militant Islam, Sayyid Qutb, one of the forefathers of militant Islam believed that freedom and success lay in an Islamic caliphate. Religious scholar Jonathan Brown wrote, “In the new world Qutb envisioned, man would be honored and freed through total submission to God.” This understanding of freedom is integral to understanding the worldview of militant Islamists. Where many Americans often call these Islamic fundamentalists as “anti-freedom,” these Islamists instead see freedom as freedom to practice Islam within an Islamic caliphate, rather than the freedom to speak or the freedom to choose their own path. Therefore, in their understanding, freedom lays in the establishment of an Islamic caliphate and Western interventions, which they view as anti-Islam, directly inhibit their ability to establish an Islamic caliphate. By occupying and creating artificial borders within Islamdom, the Western Crusaders at the most basic level disrupt Islamic unity and the ability to create a political Islamic state. Thus, the emergence of militant Islamic ideology should be understood as a reaction to the Crusader interventions in the Middle East.

Where Islamist ideology turns militant is in the resistance to Crusader interventions. Militant Islamists believe that the they need to violently expel Western forces in the Arab Islamic world and overthrow apostate rulers. Only through expelling Zionist-Crusader interventionists and the apostate-puppet rulers can the militant Islamist successfully reestablish the Caliphate. While it may be easy to understand why Islamist leaders want to expel foreign leaders, the overthrow of other Muslim leaders is more complicated. Religious scholar Jonathan Brown writes, “at the root of these militant revival movements was the question of Takfir, or declaring someone who claimed to be a Muslim an unbeliever.” Traditionally it is understood that Muslims should not commit violence against other Muslims, but Militant Islamist leaders draw on takfiri ideology, established by Ibn Tamiyya during the time of the Crusader states, as an ideological basis for committing violence against other Muslims. Takfiri ideology essentially states that one can commit violence against another Muslim if that Muslim is not practicing to the true faith. In this way, the Muslim can be labeled a kafir or non-believer. Militant Islamists have coopted the traditional understanding of jihad (most often understood to be an internal struggle to be the best self), to be instead a violent struggle against non-believers. It is important to understand this ideological development as a reaction to the legacy of the Crusades and Western intervention in the Middle East.


Modern Uses of Crusading Rhetoric in Militant Islamist Organizations

cross worshipers -- al qaeda propaganda

Still from an al-Qaeda propaganda video created by Al-Malahem Media. The translation reads, “Here are your selves and blood being licked by the cross worshipers and their agents. Stand and protect your land and honors before you regret!”

To the militant Islamists of today, “crusade” invokes religious memories—indeed, Islamists consider the religious wars of the Middle Ages as still unresolved—yet the word simultaneously implies secular motives. How is this possible? To borrow language from Osama bin Laden, “the oppressive Crusader campaign led by America” is the outgrowth of a now-apostate society that bears the cross to hide its true intentions. The western powers, together with Israel, constitute the morally destitute “Zionist-Crusader alliance.” They seek to separate Muslims from their two holiest cities (Mecca and Medina)—that is, to disrupt the ummah—without fighting the war solely as a war between antagonistic faiths. As scholar Robert Burns phrases it, “The connection between colonialism and crusade, and more broadly between Christianity and Western Imperialism, has been etched into the Arab psyche.” Taking it one step further, this connection of colonialism and crusade is based on the active work of militant Islamists who repeatedly use Crusading ideology and language to refer to recent historical events (as outlined in the section above). This section will explore the way different militant Islamist groups use Crusading ideology and language as well as the effect of this work. While the backgrounds, goals, and theologies of the many militant Islamist factions differ, they agree on a common memory of the Crusades and of current “Crusader aspirations;” they then incorporate those interpretations in their language and propaganda to inspire a collective Islamic antagonism toward the Zionist-Christian West.

If militant Muslims use “Crusade” and “Crusaders” to imply present-day religiously motivated conflicts, then how exactly do they use those words? The answer to this question varies from faction to faction. For example, the Taliban, who continue their struggle to topple the Afghani government, group together imperialism, colonialism, Christianity, and Crusade. Like many militant Islamists, they invoke the word “Crusade” to inspire hatred for the disruption of the ummah which the foreigners have brought.

In this flyer distributed in Lahore, Pakistan, the Afghani Taliban (not the Pakistani Taliban) threaten to destroy schools: “Christian missionary ones, Army-owned, and those associated with the Western educational system.” The flyers are addressed to “Apostate Rulers & Fools of Civil Society! O Appeasers of Crusaders…

taliban flyer

Taliban propaganda flyer disseminated in Pakistan in the spring of 2015

!!!” Because of their compliance with Western support and their embrace of a democratic system of government, many Pakistanis are under threat of attack from extremist groups like the Taliban who remember the destruction of the “imperialist” crusades. This flyer is an excellent example of Islamist propaganda: note their final appeal to Ahlus Sunnah (that is, Sunni Islam) parents to remove their children from Western schools which endorse “apostasy & Satanic culture.” The Taliban’s usage of the legacy of the Crusades inspires fear of betrayal of Islam. If a parent sends their child to a Western education school, these flyers immediately frame them as betrayers of Islam and therefore targets of takfiri ideology. Therefore, the use of Crusading terminology, in this case, is used as a powerful motivator to avoid Western institutions.


Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and al-Qaeda share this application of crusading terminology. In their famous 1998 fatwa (that is, religious decree) of jihad against the “Jews and Crusaders,” Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri declared that the US seeks to maintain the state of Israel for its own economic and political benefit: “The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab

world islamic front for jihad

Image of the World Islamic Front’s publication of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri’s “Declaration of Jihad against Jews and Crusaders”

state, and their endeavor to fragment all the states of the region such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan into paper statelets and through their disunion and weakness to guarantee Israel’s survival and the continuation of the brutal crusade occupation of the Peninsula.” In addition to the “Zionist-Crusader alliance,” bin Laden considers the presence of US military bases in Saudi Arabia, the location of the two holiest sites in Islam (Mecca and Medina) to be a part of the “brutal crusade occupation.” As bin Laden and al-Zawahiri make clear, al-Qaeda is convinced that the “brutal crusade occupation” of the Arabian Peninsula has not ceased and will not cease until the destruction caused by jihadists worldwide makes it materially disadvantageous to stay. Here, in this call to Muslims around the globe, al-Qaeda invokes the Crusades to draw aggression against the same “Christian West” that had “raped” the Peninsula centuries before. In addition, by linking US military power to Crusading ideology, bin Laden and al-Zawahiri make it explicitly clear that the presence of US military bases is a dagger in the heart of Islamdom (the two holy cities).

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (or “ISIL”), too, remember the Crusades mainly as disruptions of the ummah which have left Islam crippled to this day. But ISIL’s implementation of the memory of the Crusades is the most distinct from the other groups discussed. Because ISIL’s core desire is to instate a caliphate and begin the countdown to the apocalypse, they do not frequently use the historical remembrance of the Crusades to inspire hatred for Western colonialism. Rather, they look forward to the final Crusade: the battle at Dabiq which will result in heavy losses for the Islamists and the beginning of the end of time. The masked executioner of Peter Kassig (a year-long captive of ISIL) said in an ISIL propaganda video, “Here we are, burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive.”


Still from an ISIL propaganda video showing the captive Peter Kassig with his masked executioner. Kassig was decapitated in the November of 2014.

ISIL does not fear Western colonialism, though they do see it and its Arab allies as apostate; instead, they joyously welcome the intrusion of the new Western Crusaders. While ISIL certainly views their conflicts with the West as religious in nature, they see the majority of Muslims around them as apostates as well. These Muslims, who accept crusader influence by not following all Sharia, are slaughtered by ISIL regularly. Hence comes al-Baghdadi’s comment that ISIL must “deal with the rafida [Shia] first … then al-Sulul [Sunni supporters of the Saudi monarchy] … before the crusaders and their bases.” So, while groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda are primarily concerned with removing Western “crusader” influence in the Middle East, ISIL sees that mission as secondary to building a caliphate and then awaiting the imminent apocalypse brought by the final crusaders. For ISIL, the invocation of the destructive Crusades is used to electrify anticipation of the final Crusade; by repeating this apocalyptic Crusading terminology again and again, ISIL keeps its energy alive despite repeated destruction from drone strikes and coordinated assaults. 

Ultimately, the formation of these groups and their use of Crusading ideology sheds light on the painful legacy of Crusades in the Arab Islamic world. For them, Crusading is a part of their modern experience and the artificial boundaries of the Middle East serve as a constant reminder of the Crusading legacy. While the violent actions and radical nature of these groups seem to be illogical, once viewed in context with the West’s long legacy of intervention (starting with the Crusades), the motivations and goals of these groups is far more comprehensible. 

Works Cited:

al-Banna, Hassan, “Young Muslims.” 6.

Benjamin, Daniel and Simon, Steven, Sacred Terror: Radical Islam’s War Against America: 66.

bin Laden, Osama, “Exposing the New Crusader War.” February 14th, 2003: 10

Osama bin Laden’s Declaration of Jihad against Americans.” In Milestone Documents in World History. Salem Press. Web. 29 May 2016.

Brown, Jonathan, Misquoting Muhammad, August 4th, 2014: 124

Burns, Robert. Christianity, Islam, and the West, page 113. Maryland: University Press of America, 2011. Print.

Khurram, Qadir, “Modern Historiography: The Relevance of the Crusades,” Islamic Studies, Vol. 46, No. 4 (Winter): pg 527-558.

Mandement of Charles Alexandre de Richery, archbishop of Aix-en-Provence, May 5, 1830, reported in Ami de la Religion 74 (March 18, 1830): 53.

Qutb, Sayyid

“Taliban Think Crusades Never Ended, Says Pakistani Archbishop.” – Worldwide Catholic Network Sharing Faith Resources for those seeking Truth . N. p., 2015. Web. 29 May 2016.

Triaud, Jean Louis “Islam in Africa under French Colonial Rule”: 170.

Wood, Graeme. “What ISIS Really Wants.” The Atlantic. N. p., 2015. Web. 29 May 2016.

“World Islamic Front Statement Urging Jihad Against Jews And Crusaders.” N. p., 2016. Web. 29 May 2016.

The Crusades in Popular Culture


Popular culture tends to romanticize the ethos and imagery of the crusader. Crusaders are typically portrayed as chivalric, inhumanly strong, heroic characters, while Muslims are ignored or referenced as a faceless enemy. The romanticization of crusaders manifests in a focus on the Templar Knights, the mystery surrounding them, and their perceived chivalry and superiority. The concentration on the Christian side of the story takes away any focus on the actual historical motivations and conflicts of the Crusades where most criticisms of the crusaders would lie. In the few instances where a religious enemy is explicitly addressed, criticisms of the crusaders can be found.

Templars, Mystery, and Conspiracy 

Due to their frequent appearance across many different forms of popular culture, the Knights Templar have become almost synonymous with the Crusades and crusading.  Dressed in all white with a bright red cross, the image of a Templar Knight has become iconic and instantly recognizable. Their quick rise to power and substantial wealth has made them an intriguing group.

From the video game Dante's Inferno, in which the main character, Dante, is portrayed as a Knights Templar

From the video game Dante’s Inferno, in which the main character, Dante, is portrayed as a Knights Templar

The main reason for their continued presence in popular culture is their quick disappearance. On Friday the 13th of October, 1307, King Phillip IV of France called for the arrest of the Knights Templar. Their arrests are sometimes even said to be the origin of the legend of Friday the thirteenth being an unlucky day. The king owed the Knights Templar a significant sum of money, and to deal with his debt, he claimed that the Knights Templar were idol worshippers, engaged in homosexual practices, and had committed fraud. Many knights were captured, tortured into false admissions of guilt, and subsequently executed. Despite the drama of these historical events, there is very little documentation surrounding the demise of the Templar order, and only a fraction of the knights have been accounted for. It is probable that many of the knights went into hiding following the executions, but there is no way of knowing. This uncertainty, along with the rather grim and eerie demise, has opened the door for countless legends and theories as to the possible continued existence of these knights. Add to this the fact that the Knights Templar was an elite organized group that had significant power and authority throughout the Crusaders, and it is easy to exaggerate and manipulate historical fact.

Many of the conspiracy theories of the order’s disappearance are based on the fact that the Templar’s first headquarters was the Temple Mount, theorizing that they found something of great historical or monetary value 1639261._UY200_there. One of the first to hint at this was the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Micheal Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. The authors argue that the Knights Templar was actually formed as a military branch by the Priory of Sion, and that they found The Holy Grail on the Temple Mount. However, they claim the Holy Grail is not actually a cup, but documents proving the bloodline of Jesus Christ and his supposed marriage to Mary Magdalene.

The Da Vinci Code, a novel written by Dan Brown and later adapted into a movie, is built off many of the same conspiracies as that of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, in that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail was actually proof of his bloodline, all of which was known and kept secret by the Knights Templar. (The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail attempted to sue Dan Brown for plagiarism but lost the court case.) With both these storylines, the power and knowledge of the Knights Templar has been greatly exaggerated to provide a more intriguing story. The authors claim that there is evidence for which these theories could be plausible, yet they are highly unlikely. They have been born out of the insufficient documentation surrounding the demise of the Knights Templar and the mystery that surrounds them.

Another movie that specifically references the Templars and plays off the theory that they found something beneath the Temple is National Treasure. It states that the Knights Templar found a treasure and escaped to America to save themselves from the executions. For a more in-depth look at movies and the way the Crusades and specifically the Knights Templar have been portrayed visit:

Not only has the advent of popular culture contributed greatly to the shroud of mystery that has come to surround the crusaders and their ethos, but it has also obscured the role of Muslim players in the Crusades. In large part, the popular culture of the West tends to place far more significance upon the Christian knights than it does on the Muslims, in a manner often upholding European chivalric code while simultaneously obfuscating the Saracens role as the oft-defensive belligerent. For example, in Steven Spielberg’s 1989 action film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the premise rests on the idea that the Holy Grail of Arthurian legend was found by three brothers and knights of the First Crusade. The film does not elaborate on what the First Crusade entailed exactly, and in the third act, the Grail is revealed to be located in the fictional Temple of the Sun—the exterior for which the ancient city of Petra, Jordan was a stand in—carved into the cliff of the fictional Canyon of the Crescent Moon in the fictional and ostensibly Levantine country of Hatay. Ironically, and perhaps purposely, the Muslim-descended Hatay teams up with the Teutonic-descended Nazis to seize the Grail before Indiana Jones does; when the leaders of both teams, including Jones, reach the final chamber of the temple, they are met by one of the actual knights who had found the Grail. When encountered, the now-elderly knight raises his sword in a chivalrous display of his purpose as the guardian of the Grail, despite the likelihood of his defeat by a younger and spryer opponent. The first minute and a half of the following video demonstrates the role of crusaders in the movie.

Dan Brown’s 2003 book The DaVinci Code has a tenuously similar premise, whereby the protagonist Robert Langdon must race to find the Holy Grail, which turns out to be a metaphor for the supposed bloodline of Jesus Christ himself; although grounded far more in reality, Brown’s book plays up the conspiracy angle regarding the Templars that has become prevalent in much of popular culture.

Chivalry and Superiority

In addition to the focus on Templar Knights and the mystery surrounding them, popular culture references tend to emphasize the chivalry and superiority of the Christian knight.Lego These characteristics, especially when juxtaposed with the diminished role of Islam some popular culture adopts, has been greatly romanticized to highlight the positive aspects of the Crusader ethos. One example can be seen with the popular building block Lego, which had Crusaders in construction sets at one point in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Presented as a faction within the larger Lego Castle theme, who and where the Crusaders were fighting was never explicitly established; rather, the Crusaders were presented as a Eurocentric fighting force without any mention of their Saracen foe or the Levant. According to one catalog from 1992, “The Crusaders are the bravest knights in the kingdom. They are the protectors of the innocent and the keepers of justice.” This is the only discernable information on the matter. In many instances, the allure of the Crusades in popular culture can be traced back to an orientalist understanding of the conflict, whereby Western culture chooses to deify and prop up the Christian knights as the primary motivators, for better or for worse.

D and D

A Dungeons and Dragons rulebook.

Crusaders also act as characters in several fantasy universes, where their abilities are exaggerated into superhuman feats. Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 Edition (D&D 3.5e) is a fantasy role-playing game that is usually played in a tabletop setting, from rules books that provide the basic lines of play. Crusaders are featured as characters in the game, where they are depicted as instruments of their god’s divine will. Crusaders rely primarily on their intelligence and strength in order to overcome the challenges put in their way. In this way the crusaders are depicted as hyper-intelligent warriors that draw on divine power. With this strength from their god, they are able to resist harm and continue fighting even through serious opposition. Crusaders’ strikes are also imbued with divine energy allowing them to smite foes with divine light and zealous charges. With their extensive martial training and their divine toolkit, crusaders are characterized as fearless, powerful frontline fighters that represent their god on the field of battle.

Religious Fervor

Though they are often perceived as heroic and morally upright, crusaders in Dungeons and Dragons do not have to necessarily serve a god aligned with good; they can also serve a god aligned with evil. In this way the morality of crusaders is not always clear and ultimately depends on the god they chose to serve. Crusaders are also characterized as serving their god with extreme religious fervor; the loss of their gods’ favors would result in the loss of their powers.

Somewhat similar to Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer 40k is a fantasy sci-fi universe that evolved out of a collectible miniatures tabletop game. The universe has expanded to include books, video games and card games all connected to the same lore.


A crusader from the Warhammer 40k universe.

In the Warhammer 40k universe, humans serve the will of the God Emperor, who is essentially the Christian God who has taken human form. The God Emperor united the humans of earth and embarked on the Great Crusade to unite all the lost human colonies across the universe and establish human dominance throughout the universe, forcing the other human settlements into the Emperor’s empire. The Empire also initiates numerous other crusades (ex. Black Crusade, Eternal Crusade, Sabbat Worlds Crusade, etc.) which are undertaken to rid the galaxy of heretics (those who oppose the god emperor) and other races. Whenever the empire perceived a threat to their empire, a crusade was called to combat the forces that could bring harm to the emperor or humanity. These crusades were always fought with religious fervor and with the purpose of completely annihilating their enemies. Religious zeal for the emperor dominates the ranks and scores of crusaders travel across the galaxy bringing ruin and destruction to the Emperor’s enemies. The Crusaders depicted in this universe are physically superior to the average life form, embodying the wrath of the Emperor through their superior strength and technology.

In these two fantasy universes, crusaders are always represented as superhuman, and though they are sometimes depicted as heroes defending humanity, they are also depicted as fanatically and destructively devoted to their god. Unlike in the popular culture references talked about previously, crusaders in Dungeons and Dragons and Warhammer 40k are significantly characterized by their religious devotion. In these universes, religious fervor is inherently connected to destruction and questionable morality, and thus in these popular culture references, crusaders are not always portrayed in a positive light.

Addressing the Enemy

Though popular culture tends to portray crusaders largely in a positive light, there are some instances where the portrayal is negative. This tends to correlate with the explicit presence of a religious enemy. While the questionable uprightness of crusaders is glimpsed in Dungeons and Dragons and Warhammer 40k, note both that crusaders still have the potential to be good and also that their enemies are not explicitly identified or characterized. When crusaders are referenced together with a specific religious enemy in popular culture, the criticism of these historic knights intensifies.

This political cartoon to the leftbush_crusade_for_oil is a response to a speech by President George W. Bush following the events of September 11, 2001, in which he referred to the “war on terrorism” as a crusade. Though Bush used the word offhandedly, he used it instinctively to describe the chivalric violence he believed was the necessary and morally upright response to the problems facing his country. Bush faced immense criticism for his reference to the Crusades, as many people remembered the Crusades as a series of historical crimes, hypocritical religious violence, and morally questionable events. In the context of a struggle between America and Islamic groups, the Crusades are more easily remembered as morally repugnant, and thus Bush is portrayed as an unintelligent or corrupt crusader. Unlike in the movies, video games, and other politically distant forms of popular culture that comfortably ignore the Muslim perspective on the Crusades, this political cartoon has to acknowledge that just as there are two sides to the “war on terrorism,” there were two sides to the Crusades. Perhaps when the crusaders’ enemy has to be recognized as another human party, it is more difficult to portray those crusaders in an exclusively positive light.

Two Marvel Comics issues from 1983 entitled “Cry of the Crusader!” and “Holy War!” feature a super villain called the Crusader. Born Arthur Blackwood,item11208.1 he was a seminary student who believed the church should be more involved in fighting paganism, and was dismissed after fighting with a superior. Blackwood becomes endowed with the combined strength of his crusader ancestors, and beginning with Thor, blasphemous for calling himself a god, devotes himself to fighting paganism. When the Crusader is defeated by Thor, a supposed agent of the devil, he becomes riddled with doubt, questioning the righteousness of his crusade. His faith in God and the moral uprightness of his cause shaken, the Crusader goes on to lose battle after battle against the pagans he challenges, causing him to question whether his is actually doing the holy work of God. As in many of the popular culture references to the Crusades, Marvel’s the Crusader is initially portrayed as brave and strong with superhuman fighting abilities. Yet, unlike in most popular culture references, the Crusader is faced with an explicit religious enemy. Though there are never any references to Islam or the specific religious motivations of the historical Crusades, this popular culture example is atypical in that it explicitly presents a religious enemy, forcing the audience to think about the Crusader’s morality, about whether his cause is just. As the audience follows the comic, it begins to suggest that the Crusader’s cause is not, in fact, just. He is not successful in any of his campaigns and is ultimately defeated entirely, proving that whatever powers of faith and strength he believed he possessed were not truly so powerful.


The representation of crusaders in popular culture tends to be heavily romanticized and thus not entirely historically accurate. Firstly, the focus is often on Templar Knights. While one might argue that these knights best represented the ideals of the Crusades, and were probably the most elite of the crusaders, the Templar Knights made up only a small fraction of the historical crusading force. Thus, the Templars do not accurately or fully represent the typical crusader. Additionally, as the Templar order did not arise until after the First Crusade, the Templars do not represent the original religious motivations of the Crusaders, and the focus in popular culture tends to be on their military prowess rather than their religion or piety. The almost superhuman strength, bravery, and intelligence often attributed to crusaders in popular culture, however, may have a basis in their historically elite status and military superiority over the typical crusader. The historical events surrounding the disintegration of the Templar order do lend themselves to the mysteriousness and conspiracies that riddle popular culture references. However, nearly all the stories created about the enigmatic Templars have no historical basis. And again, these stories fixate on the western crusader and his military characteristics, leaving out the Muslim players and most religious aspects of the Crusades. Ignoring these historically critical aspects of the Crusades allows for a simplified romanticization that easily avoids criticism of the historical events.

Popular Culture References


  • The Da Vinci Code
  • Holy Blood, Holy Grail


  • National Treasure
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Video games:

  • Dante’s Inferno

Fantasy Universes:

  • Dungeons and Dragons
  • Warhammar 40k


  • Lego


  • Marvel’s “Cry of the Crusader!”
  • Marvel’s “Holy War!”

Political Cartoons:

  • President Bush’s “crusade”



The Crusades in the World of Gaming


Crusading and crusader figures are often drawn upon in videogames.  Yet how accurate are depictions of crusaders?  By analyzing four games: Dragon AgeAssassin’s Creed, Medieval II: Total War, and Knights of Honor, the validity of accurate gaming tropes regarding crusaders will be analyzed and common misperceptions will be debunked.  Specifically, politics, religiosity, and Templar figures in crusading games will be examined.


The Role of Military Orders and Templars in Games

Summary: A number of games adequately recognize the piety, obedience, and elite military prowess of the Templar Order.  However, an increasing emphasis on questionable actions taken by Templars in games has given rise to imaginative conspiracy theories and negative views of Templar figures.

From Demon Slaying to War Waging

Firstly, the Dragon Age game trilogy features non-playable Templar characters that further the progression of the story’s plot.  The game’s main conflict revolves around a periodic war between mages and the Templar Order.  The Templar Order is the military arm of the Chantry, the game’s primary religious organization.  The primary duty of Templars is to protect the world from magic and demons.  Mages in the game are not inherently evil, but their abilities are a result of their strong link to the Fade, a realm where demons lie.  Mages are perceived as a threat by the Chantry because unlike the world’s normal inhabitants, their bodies are prone to possession by demons.  When a mage becomes possessed, demons are able to leave the Fade and physically manifest themselves throughout the game world.  Mages are not persecuted if they renounce their magical abilities and personal freedoms, reducing them to shells of their former selves and confining them to Templar-governed communities known as the “Circle of Magi.”  Joining the Circle of Magi and renouncing magic in order to avoid death is analogous to the conversion of Muslims to Christianity during the Crusades.  Additionally, Templars justify their violent actions in the name of the Maker (the game’s equivalent of God).  The in-game Templars must renounce wealth, are discouraged from marrying or raising children, and swear vows of obedience and piety – similar to their real world counterparts.


Image of a sloth demon in Dragon Age, taken from

Additionally, “Templar” is a specialization for playable characters in the games.  A “specialization” is a set of customizations that determine your character’s abilities, which are called “talents.”  Some talents throughout the three Dragon Age games include:

“Cleanse Area”: “The templar purges the area of magic, removing all dispellable effects from those nearby.”  This talent enforces the belief that templars were blessed warriors with the ability to remove evil from the world – whether it be mages and demons in the game or Islam and the devil in the real world.

“Mental Fortress”: “The templar has learned to focus on duty, gaining a large bonus to mental resistance.”  This talent supports real Templar emphasis on strict obedience and their ability to refrain from worldly temptations by practicing chastity, thereby maintaining their mental fortitude.

“Holy Smite”: “The Templar strikes out with righteous fire, inflicting spirit damage on the target and other nearby enemies.”  The templar’s piety and relationship to God is emphasized by his ability to smite enemies as he literally wields the power of the Holy Spirit.

“Blessed Blades”: “You rally all of your nearby allies to fight with greater strength, especially when facing demons.”  This ability highlights the blessing of swords in Mass during the real crusades and the belief that violent actions were done with God’s blessing, for God supposedly imbued crusaders with the power to victory.

“The Last Sacrifice”: “Even if should you fall, you give your allies strength to fight harder in your name.”  Your Templar character’s death makes him into a martyr.  In the game and the real crusades, death during combat was equated with a beneficial, Christ-like sacrifice.

Video Showcasing some Templar talents in Dragon Age: Inquistion:

The Chantry’s perception of mages as demonic beings who must be killed or reformed, in the name of the Maker, is analogous to Church rhetoric against Islam during the Crusades.  The actions of in-game characters and descriptions of players’ abilities show that Templars follow a strict code of obedience and servitude to the Maker, as was required of the real Templar Order.

However, mages often invoke sympathy in the player and players frequently decide to side with mages over the Templars.  In fact, Templars in the game are often portrayed as religious fanatics and the player can choose to reject their beliefs by becoming a mage him/herself.  Although demons pose a serious threat, selfish motives and an addiction to a magical substance known as “lyrium” frequently dictate the actions of Templars in the game.  At the end of Dragon Age II, one of the commanders of the Templars even crafts a magical sword that drives her to insanity.  This magically enhanced Templar commander serves as the final boss battle of Dragon Age II and it is impossible for the player to not engage in combat with her.  Despite seeking out the destruction of mages, Templars hypocritically rely on mystical artifacts in order to power themselves.

Below is a video showing the end of Dragon Age II, if the player sided with the mages over the Templars.  Note the religious language that Knight-Commander Meredith of the Templar Order uses throughout the final conflict:  “I will be rewarded for what I’ve done here, in this world and the next.”  “Maker, your servant begs you for the strength to defeat this evil.”  “Maker, guide your humble servant.  Please tell me what I must do.  What if… I’m not doing the right thing?  What if this is all madness?  No, I must remain vigilant.”

Whereas Dragon Age draws upon crusader themes and imagines a fictionalized form of crusading in a fantasy world, the first Assassin’s Creed Game, released in 2007, was actually set during the Third Crusade. The rest of the series is based on a fictional rivalry between the Templar Order and a brotherhood of Assassins (based on a historical group centered in Masyaf, Syria).  The series spans a history encompassing the Third Crusade, Renaissance Italy, 18th century North America, Paris during the French Revolution, and most recently, industrial London.  Elements of the modern world are thrown into the mix in order to connect the game’s historical elements with the fictionalized, continued existence of the Templar Order and the Assassins in the modern world.

The original Assassin’s Creed game focused on an assassin named Altair ibn-La’Ahad, an Arab, but not a Muslim, who was orphaned and taken in by the Assassin order at Masyaf. Throughout the game the player encounters many historical figures, such as Robert de Sablè and Richard the Lionheart.  The player also encounters a few Muslim characters, although the game’s primary focus is on Frankish soldiers, the emergence of the Templars, and the control they began to exert while searching for a mystical artifact which would allow them to impose their beliefs across the world through mind control. The overall story of the game follows Altair’s life as he is sent on missions throughout the Holy Land (playable cities include Jerusalem, Acre, Masyaf, and Damascus) by the leader of the Assassins to eliminate high profile figures in the hopes of crippling this highly fictionalized, conspiracy theory version of the Templars (some of whom are historical, real members of the military order though), thus saving the world from forceful domination.

The subsequent games, and deeper lore associated with them, are where most of the deviation in the portrayal of “Templars” from the true historical order happens.  In the games, the Templar order was supposedly started by Cain, the Biblical figure who killed his brother, Abel.  Throughout the game’s version of history, major changes of power in large empires have been attributed to the group that came to be called the Templar Order.  There is a bit of a gap in the game narrative regarding how this actually originates in Biblical times, but in the story of the game, historians are not prevalent and thus a fully fleshed-out world is not presented to the gamer. The attempted destruction of the Templars in the first game merely drove them underground and they became a secret organization with the same amount of secrecy as the Free Masons. The underground Templars are still trying to retrieve mystical artifacts for world domination, while fighting off the underground Assassin order that attempts to ensure humanity can keep its free will.  After the end of the first game, no antagonists in any of the following games share any association with historical Templars, despite keeping the “Templar” name and sigil of a red cross.  In some cinematic sequences, such as in the screenshot shown below, a red cross concealed under a Templar’s clothes can be seen falling from the dead Templar:


Screenshot from a cinematic trailer for Assassin’s Creed 3 that depicts a Templar cross falling from his body.

Assassin’s Creed is consistent in representing the cross imagery of Templar attire, while Dragon Age substitutes a flaming sword instead.  Although both games depict perceptions of mindsets that may have governed the Templars’ actions (some of which have more historical merit than others), they focus less on the explicit historical warfare that the Templars engaged in.  Medieval II: Total War and Knights of Honor are more effective in the militarized historical capacity.


Representation of a Templar Knight in Assassin’s Creed

Templar Armor in Dragon Age II, taken from

Templar Armor in Dragon Age II, taken from













Medieval II: Total War is a real-time strategy PC game that is centered on the Third and Fourth Crusades.  The game presents the opportunity for a player to meticulously construct an empire, building up infrastructure and trade networks while amassing large armies, in order to defeat the other factions present within the Holy Land. The game has five main playable factions that are headed by a “hero” who the player controls, along with his armies in battle. The Kingdom of Jerusalem faction is led by Richard the Lionheart, the Principality of Antioch faction is championed by Philip Augustus, the Ayyubid Sultanate faction is led by Saladin, the Seljuq Empire faction is headed by Nur ad-Din Zangi, and the Byzantine Empire Faction is led by Manuel Komnenos.

The campaign begins in 1174, several years before Pope Gregory VIII called for the Third Crusade. As the campaign progresses into the Fourth Crusade, three new unplayable factions are inserted into the gameplay. The Mongol Empire begins invading the eastward areas of the game map, ships belonging to the Republic of Venice deposit armies on the coastal west, and the Mameluke rebellion of 1250 upsets gameplay near Egypt.

With enough resources, the player has the option to construct permanent forts that, even when vacated, will remain in play. Each faction has a single region called their “Power Centre” where their fledging empire is based. If this region is lost, certain units cannot be recruited. However, if a Power Centre is lost, reinforcements will often be sent in to help the player retake the city or region. If the player chooses either the Principality of Antioch or the Kingdom of Jerusalem, they will have access to the Knights Hospitaller and Templar orders, providing them with unique and highly effective fighting units.

The game has both the Templars and the Knights Hospitallers as additions to one’s fortresses/armies. They are both relatively difficult to unlock, requiring a successful crusade campaign that sacks and controls at least one enemy city. After the city is rebuilt/held for a few turns, the player has the option to build one of these orders. (This requires multiple cities to be sacked for both orders to be playable). They are not presented as anything other than an elite fighting force that refuse to retreat. There is no background/ulterior motives given for the orders, unlike in Dragon Age and Assassin’s Creed.

The Templars are depicted as one of the most elite fighting units of the game. In order to unlock the Templars, the player must first go on a successful Crusade (after choosing the option to launch a crusade). After a successful Crusade, the Templar Order may be founded in the captured city for a significant amount of in-game resources. These mounted knights are portrayed as extremely dedicated individuals that are impossible to route/make retreat. They have more fighting formations than the average unit and usually use a cavalry charge in a wedge formation. In the game there is a lack of distinction in control between Templars and regular units, as they are both controlled in the same way when not in combat.  The Templars are armed with a lance and a sword, and have a permanent special ability that increases their attack power against Muslim forces.  Due to the difficulty of acquiring these units and their ability to shift tides in combat, having and maintaining the Templar Order can give the player an extreme advantage over their enemies and are seen as integral units for a successful campaign. They have a special ability against Islamic forces that increase their attack power, like the Templars’ abilities against mages in Dragon Age. As a RTS game, there is little in-depth background or analysis for the motives behind orders. They are made available through conquest and are an effective fighting force, but there is no additional information given.  Military might is emphasized, but human motives are not a factor like in Assassin’s Creed.

Knights of Honor similarly depicts military orders as loyal to the papacy, but their sole function is to serve as an elite armed entity.  When the Pope calls a Crusade, one of the kingdom’s marshals (military leaders) often gets the opportunity to lead the Crusade. Upon choosing to lead a Crusade, the marshal acquires a squad of special military units, namely Crusader Infantry, Crusader Cavalry, and Crusader Crossbowmen. Crusader Infantry are similar to Templars, which are powerful units that give many bonuses to an army, such as increased morale. The Crusader Infantry version of Templars are especially powerful, as they are all elite forces chosen by the Pope. Because of this, these units get even further bonuses to their strength, speed, and other attributes. These units are also exclusive to kingdoms that have adopted the Christian religion, just as other military units are specific to different religions.

Besides standard marshals and their armies, there are a few different types of military orders present in Knights of Honor. Rebels, which are generally small, weak groups, can spawn randomly in any location. Random spawning can happen for a number of reasons. For example, if a Crusade is unsuccessful, angry Christians may conglomerate and form a rebellion group. A rebellion could also occur if a province has a religion different than the official religion of the kingdom. This would happen if a Christian kingdom took over a province from a non-Christian kingdom.

In summary, the military might of the Templar Order and their desire to defeat satanic evils has persisted through history and manifests itself in videogames.  However, cloudy elements of the Templar Order’s past has resulted in outlandish conspiracy theories that cater towards public desire for drama and the revelation of secrets.


The Role of Religion

Summary:  Games widely vary in their depictions of crusades as either religious or military endeavors.  Some games emphasize the religious elements of crusading and crusading is depicted as a pious, armed pilgrimage against sinful forces.  Other games, however, simply glorify the military aspects of crusading and cater towards gamers’ desire for violent combat and warfare strategizing.

Military Might and Devout Destruction

Dragon Age does an adequate job of representing the religious focus of crusading and the motives behind the real crusades.  The in-game crusades are referred to as “Exalted Marches,” in which the goal is to defeat sinful enemies and mages in foreign lands.  The concept of crusading as a holy march in the name of God echoes the real world perception of crusading as an armed pilgrimage.  If one dies on an Exalted March, in-game crusaders believed that they would obtain salvation and be “Exalted” at the Maker’s side – thus demonstrating the importance of martyrdom to crusading ideology.  The first Exalted March was led by a prophet named Andraste, who was supposedly the bride of the Maker.  The characters in the game condone the first Exalted March by describing its leader as the literal embodiment of the Maker’s wife, emphasizing how people believed the violence of crusading was sanctioned by God.  A major motivation of the First Exalted March was that non-magical persons were said to have been abused and tortured by the leaders of the mage-controlled regions, just like how the torture and abuse of Eastern Christians in Muslim lands was used as propaganda to rally Christians under the banner of Crusade in the real world.  The subjugation of the Maker’s people, whether true or not, became a rallying cry for the Exalted Marches.  The First Exalted March was fought to defeat demons and free people oppressed by mages in the mage-controlled Tevinter Imperium.


Depiction of Andraste defeating the Tevinter Imperium Mages and A Weakened Mage after Her Victory, taken from

The other three games do not emphasize religion and crusading primarily serves as a means by which the player participates in military combat.  Religion in Assassin’s Creed is a subtle element residing in the background of the story’s events.  Since the game is played from the point-of-view of a non-religious Arab assassin, no special attention is given to describing the Crusaders or the Saracen forces as religious warriors and religion is not a driving factor in the conflict. Instead the religiosity is funneled into an obsession with a powerful mystical artifact, named the “Apple of Eden” (alluding to the Biblical story).

In Medieval II: Total War, religion is simply used as a method of deciding what factions a player can make alliances with.  There are two religions within the game: Islam and Christianity. The Middle-Eastern factions all follow Islam, while the Western factions all practice Christianity. Having the same religion greatly increases the chances of a successful treaty or alliance with another faction, and it is difficult to have any successful diplomacy with another religion. All Christian factions are allowed to join a Crusade (if a minimum amount of units are present in an army) when one faction calls for a Crusade, which gives the player extra units and bonuses for the player’s generals. Within the Islam factions, there is the option to call a Jihad if they have a high-ranking Imam within their army. Once a Jihad is called, all Islamic factions have the possibility to join it. Armies that have called a jihad have increased movement ability, but if they do not move closer to enemy cities (the Jihad’s target), the soldiers will begin to desert the army.  The game does not have too much historical accuracy with religion and its inner-workings, as they blanket the entire region into Christian and Islamic forces. They do not differentiate between Sunni-Shia denominations of Islam.

Knights of Honor also uses crusading as a way to conduct military expeditions, where the religious motives of soldiers are not emphasized.  However, religion very much governs what factions the player is able to fight and the influence of the Pope and other religious leaders is incredibly prominent, despite religious views and motivations taking a seat in the background.  At the start of the game, the player selects the country/kingdom they want to play as. This ultimately indicates which in-game religion the player’s kingdom will adopt, though a player can convert to another religion at any point in the game. If the kingdom selected is the “Catholic Church” religion, the kingdom has much influence over Europe. There is always a Pope for the Catholic religion, who can perform many actions, such as excommunicating other countries from the Catholic Church, and more importantly, call Crusades against non-Catholic kingdoms. When the Pope dies, a new one is selected.  If a player has an experienced Cleric in their Royal Court, it is possible for that Cleric to become the new Pope, thereby giving the player control of the Pope’s authority.

The Pope dies in Knights of Honor, and the next pope happened to be in the player's royal court, giving the player control of his actions.

The Pope dies in Knights of Honor, and the next pope happened to be in the player’s royal court, giving the player control of his actions.

When the Pope calls a Crusade against another kingdom, the player gains access to strong military units, including Templars and Teutonic Knights. If a Crusade is successful, the country which the Pope belongs to will gain a large amount of gold and piety, which are commodified as in-game resources used to further improve the kingdom. The kingdom targeted in the Crusade also remains completely loyal to the Pope’s kingdom, which called the Crusade initially. A failed Crusade lowers the power of the Catholic Church, decreases Kingdom Power, which results in a significant fee, and finally, increases the chance of rebellion in Catholic areas. Islamic empires have the ability to call for a jihad, in a way similar to the calling of a Crusade. This action spawns a strong group of soldiers within the empire that approaches and fights against rebels and intruders from other kingdoms.

A view of the kingdom's piety, an in-game resource used for facilitating many religion-based actions, such as calling a crusade.

A view of the kingdom’s piety, an in-game resource used for facilitating many religion-based actions, such as calling a crusade. (Knights of Honor)

Europe is divided into a number of different kingdoms, each of which practice a religion. There are four possible religions to choose from, which are Christianity, Muslim, Paganism, and Orthodox. Each religion has unique bonuses which apply to the kingdoms that follow that religion. Besides these bonuses, religion also plays a large part in relationships between different kingdoms. For example, if a kingdom declares war on a kingdom practicing Christianity, other Christian kingdoms may respond by declaring war on that nation. Additionally, a kingdom of a certain religion may act with more hostility towards another nation with a different religion.

In summary, although religious motives are not emphasized in the majority of crusade-related videogames, religion dictates what kingdoms are hostile to one another and demonstrate the tension between religious entities during the Crusades.  In-game alliances are generally made based on the each warring kingdom’s religious affiliation, which was mostly the case when various nations became unified under the same crusading banner in the real world.


The Role of Politics

Summary:  The nature of politics in all four games is extremely similar.  Potentially rivaled groups must come together and unite under the banner of religion and under the papacy, like Richard the Lionheart and Philip II did during the Third Crusade.

Pious Politics and Faithful Fighting

In Medieval II: Total War, much like in the actual history of the Crusades, the game involves a significant amount of diplomacy and interaction between the opposing forces. Treaties and alliances come and go as the situations on the ground change. Any faction is allowed to communicate or ally with one other, even if they belong to different religious groups. The two factions must be on at least neutral terms for an alliance or peace to be made, so it is more likely that two related factions, such as the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Principality of Antioch, will become allies than the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Ayyubid Sultanate. The game also employs critical historical figures who hold their own prejudices against rival factions, which can drastically alter the outcome of a successful treaty or alliance.

Different views views of Assassins and how the war between the Saracens and Crusaders should be dealt with is also determined by prominent historical figures and Muslim diplomats in Assassin’s Creed.  However, there is less content on the Arab side of history because the focus of the game is primarily between Templars and Assassins.  Different factions come into conflict with each other within the in-game Templar Order, much like the factionalization that led to the disorganization of the Third Crusade.  The game’s plot is contingent on interactions between alliances between potentially hostile groups of the same religion.

Similarly, though much of the interaction between nations has to do with religion, there are other forms of diplomatic relationships in Knights of Honor. Nations can forge several agreements with each other, such as Trade Agreements, which allow kingdoms to trade with each other for goods or gold.  There are also Pacts of Non-Aggression, in which nations agree to not fight.  Alliances also exist in the game, where kingdoms support each other in war.  A player must take into account their relationships with other kingdoms in each strategic decision made. For example, if Nation 1 breaks a Pact of Non-Aggression with Nation 2, an ally of Nation 2 may declare war on Nation 1. Relationships range from “harmonious” (extremely friendly) to “feud” (hostile), and these statuses can be altered by audiences with foreign leaders, by which players can arrange royal weddings and offer or demand gifts.

Agreements between government leaders and the pope also play a huge role towards the player’s success in games.  In Dragon Age, for example, government leaders, such as the Viscount of a city named Kirkwall, often cooperate with the Chantry by providing military forces to serve on the Chantry’s behalf.   Because the Templars are a selective military order with a limited amount of soldiers, the Chantry relies on leaders of various, sometimes rival regions to provide and lead their larger armies against demons, as the Catholic Church did during the Crusades.

Motivations for the later Exalted Marches of Dragon Age also took on a political form, despite remaining under the banner of religious war on the Church’s behalf.  Fighting became less clear cut because it was not solely against mages and demons.  Similar to how the Fourth Crusade repurposed the indulgence to make Constantinople the crusaders’ target, a series of “New Exalted Marches” against non-mage controlled regions were called in years following the initial Exalted Marches.  Crusading ideology was repurposed in Dragon Age to include any potentially antagonistic territory to the Chantry’s goals.

In summary, the politics of the crusades are mainly employed by videogames as a way for the player to engage in entertaining, military strategizing.  However, the in-game rules that players must abide by are rooted in historical trends and a player’s actions are often dictated by their in-game avatar or faction’s religious affiliation.



Assassin’s Creed.  Ubisoft.  2007.  Video game.

Dragon Age II.  BioWare.  2011.  Video game.

Dragon Age: Inquisition.  BioWare.  2014.  Video game.

Dragon Age: Origins.  BioWare.  2009.  Video game.

Knights of Honor.  Paradox Entertainment.  2005.  Video game.

Medieval II: Total War.  Sega.  2006.  Video game.




Additional Resources:

The Assassin’s Creed Wiki:

The Dragon Age Wiki:

The Knights of Honor Wiki:

The Medieval II Total War Wiki:

Arab Nationalism and the Crusades


Arab Nationalism is an ideology that calls for the creation of an Arab nation stretching from the Atlantic shores of Morocco in North Africa to the Persian Gulf shores of the Arabian Peninsula.[1] Its adherents believe that because Arabs are connected by a common ethnicity, language, culture, history, and often religion, they should also be united politically. The quest for Arab governance is generally coupled with a socialist-revolutionary transformation at home, and an anti-Western position abroad.[2] Arab Nationalism took hold after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, but it wasn’t until Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser rose to power in the 1950s that Arab Nationalism became a dominant political ideology in the Arab world.

Arab Nationalists’ Ideal Nation (source:


Arab Nationalism was born out of the fall of the Ottoman Empire. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, many Middle Eastern cities and regions lost the prowess they once had. Cairo and Baghdad lost their role as premier cities of learning and culture.  As the Middle East fell behind the power curve of industrialization, Western powers utilized their new positions of authority to seize control of parts of the Middle East. This influx of imperialism into the Middle East was met with a concept of Arab independence.

Arab leaders and policymakers plans to accomplish Arab independence differed. Some saw religious unity and purification as the path to independence, others saw Arab Nationalism as the path. Religious purity was the prominent path till about 1948. In 1948, King Farouk of Egypt outlawed the popular party that was pushing for religious purity, laying the grounds for Arab Nationalism to rise to popularity.

The rise of Arab Nationalism led to an increased fascination with the Crusades, because its supporters realized the didactic potential of these Medieval confrontations between Europe and the Middle East. Many Arabs philosophers even sought to recreate the “golden period” of the Crusades, considering them a time of religious purity and Arabic strength.[3] In the context of Western imperialism and the creation of the state of Israel in the Twentieth century, Arab Nationalist leaders evoked the Crusades as an example of European proto-colonialism, and used the unified anti-Crusader response as a blueprint for modern Arab resistance to Western aggression. [4]


President Nasser,

President Nasser (source:

Arab Nationalism truly rose to prominence under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Gamal Abdel Nasser was an Egyptian army officer who led a group known as the Free Officers to overthrow the Egyptian Monarchy in 1952. From there he gained political support and became President in 1956. Nasser’s political agenda was to unify the Arab states in order to withstand European imperialism, an agenda that was heavily built off of the prior success of Arab unity in repelling the Crusaders from the Middle East. Nasser managed to capture the popular support of many Arab people in his success with the Suez Canal Crisis. The Suez Canal was a major symbol of European imperialism. Although Egypt controlled the lands of the Suez Canal, they did not have control over the actual function of the Canal. The Canal itself was controlled by French and British investors, and their respective governments as well. In 1956, due to Egyptian political pressure, France and Britain withdrew their armed forces which had been stationed in the “canal-zone.”[5] President Nasser seized this opportunity to nationalize the Suez Canal, claiming to return “an integral part of Egypt.” This prompted a joint bombing mission and ground invasion from Israel, France, and Britain, but due to political pressure they were soon forced to withdraw.  The nationalization of the Suez Canal, and the subsequent Egyptian political victory in the Suez Canal Crisis, was seen as a major victory in the eyes of the Egyptians and the Arabic people. Not only had Egypt managed to reclaim lands that had rightfully belonged to its people, but also had managed to withstand the joint forces of world powers. Building upon his victory, Nasser became the symbol for Arab nationalism. Nassar used the momentum from this victory to rally both the Egyptian people and the Arabic people in hopes of creating a unified Arab state that could stand up the West. This rhetoric of strength through unity was seen throughout his speeches. [6] [7]


During his presidency, Nasser explicitly aligned himself with Saladin (1137-1193), the Medieval sultan who conquered Jerusalem and pushed out the Crusaders by unifying the Islamic World. While famous in the West since the time of the Crusades as a noble enemy and talented military leader, Saladin was virtually forgotten in the Islamic World in favor of Baybars and other leaders who fought off the Mongols, who posed a far greater threat than the Crusaders at the time. However, in the context of Western colonialism and the creation of Israel, Saladin was discovered as the perfect symbol of Arab unity[8], anti-colonialism, and anti-Western ideals. Furthermore, Nasser’s United Arab States, the short-lived confederation of Egypt and Syria was much of the same land Saladin ruled during the 12th century..,,

Lands under Saladin vs. United Arab Republic under Nasser (sources: 1. 2.

Nasser associated himself with Saladin in various ways. He often directly referred to Saladin in his speeches, and in February 1958 the president planned a formal visit to his famous predecessor’s tomb in Damascus, where he gave a speech in response to Syrian crowds coming to pay him allegiance. [9] Nasser’s association with Saladin extended beyond the Arab World, as seen in a New York Times article from March 1958, which described as Nasser as “The man who fancies himself a modern Saladin.”[10]

Nasser also relied on visuals to align himself with the Medieval sultan. Most notably, Nasser adopted the Eagle of Saladin (also known as Arab Eagle) as the symbol for and revolutionary Egypt. Afterward, The Eagle of Saladin was adopted by several other Arab States (U.A.E., Iraq, the Palestinian Territory, and Yemen) .[11]


Arab Emblems (source:

The intentional association between the two men is also very apparent in Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine’s Saladin (1963). While it technically chronicled the Third Crusade, Saladin was essentially a plug for Nasser and Arab Nationalism. Chahine wastes no time creating the parallel between Saladin and Nasser. Early in the film, Saladin explicitly states Nasser’s Arab Nationalist agenda, with the anachronistic phrase: “My dream is to see an Arab nation united under one flag.” Other instances that connect Nasser to Saladin and forward his agenda are when Saladin is shown talking to his men in front of the Arab Eagle. In this moment, like many others, Saladin may as well transform into President Nasser and be discussing the events of the mid 20th century rather than the Third Crusade.



In 1917, British policymakers leveraged the Zionists’ desire for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine to assert Britain’s geopolitical imperial interests in the region via the signing of the Balfour Declaration.  Because the Balfour Declaration violated previous promises made in the Husayn-McMahon Correspondence and the Sykes-Picot Agreement, Zionism immediately became depicted as a religious movement that was politically oppressive and economically exploitative of native Arabs. Many Palestinians viewed the Zionists as an alien regime that lacked a culture of its own and national authenticity.  Nasser viewed the establishment of Israel as a neo-crusading attack intended to keep the Arab nation divided and subservient to Western imperialism[12].  In a translation of his own words, Nasser believed that “Imperialism signed a pact with Zionism and the result was the Balfour Declaration… and the deathblow to our Nationalism, this time under a new name, a substitute for “the Crusades,” which was “the mandate”[13].

Nasser Kicking Israel

A cartoon of Nasser kicking Israel into the sea, with the armies of Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq in the background supporting his effort. (Source:

Nasser believed Israel would collapse as soon as the Jewish State was up against a united Arab front, which he saw as a “historic confrontation” with direct links to the Crusades[14].  To Nasser, the “Crusades represented nothing less than Imperialism, domination, and despotism against the Arab people—Muslims and Christians alike”—who managed to achieve victory against the Crusaders’ imperialist invasions only by uniting against them.  Evidently, Nasser applied the Zionist-Crusader analogy to the Arab-Israeli Conflict to create a parallel between the colonialism displayed by Crusaders during the Middle Ages and what he saw as a modern form of colonialism by the Zionists and their Western allies.  In order to advance his contemporary anti-Israeli efforts, Nasser viewed the expellers of the Crusaders as Arab heroes and the Crusaders as barbaric in his mythological construction of the Zionist-Crusader invasion.

“During the Crusaders’ occupation, the Arabs waited seventy years before a suitable opportunity arose and they drove away the Crusaders. Some people commented that Abdel Nasser said we should shelve the Palestinian question for seventy years, but I say that as a people with an ancient civilization, as an Arab people, we are determined that the Palestine question will not be liquidated or forgotten. The whole question, then, is the proper time to achieve our aims. We are preparing ourselves constantly [in the objective of destroying Israel].”

-May 26, 1967 Address to Arab Trade Unionists by Gamal Abdel Nasser[14].


Shortly after the creation of Israel in 1948, the Arab-Israeli War quickly arose with violence occurring as the result of the Egyptian occupation of Gaza and the Jordanian occupation of the West Bank.  The Palestinian Fedayeen—who were backed by the Russians—launched guerilla attacks upon Israel, whose defense forces—backed by the Americans and the French—responded with reprisal operations[15].  Tensions elevated between Egypt and Israel after President Nasser closed off Israeli shipping through the Straits of Tehran, an event better known today as the Suez Crisis.  While Britain and France came to Israel’s defense by attacking Egypt and handing over the occupation of the Sinai Peninsula to the United Nations, President Nasser emerged as the figurehead of Arab nationalism at this time.  Over the next ten years, conflict between Israel and the surrounding Arab states continued.  Fearing an impending Israeli attack on Syria, President Nasser once again blocked the Straits of Tehran to Israeli shipping and encouraged Arab nations to move troops to the Israeli border[16].  On June 5, 1967, Israel launched air strikes on the Egyptian air force and moved its troops into Sinai and pushed the Arabs out of the nearby region over just six days, which effectively discredited Nasser’s Arab nationalist movement. as the Arabs failed in their united military effort to destroy the State of Israel.

For more information on the Six Day War, check out this 3 Minute Video



In addition to President Nasser, the other major player associated with Arab Nationalism is the Ba’ath Party. The Ba’ath Party was founded in 1947 and dissolved 1966, when it split into two factions – one dominated by Iraqis and one by Syrians. The Arabic word al-ba’ath means ‘resurrection’ or ‘renaissance.’ Ba’athists seek a renaissance for Arab culture and civilization, and call for an Arab nation under the leadership of a secular, vanguard party. As with more general Arab Nationalism, the symbol of Ba’athism is the Eagle of Saladin.

Saddam Hussein was a leader of the Iraqi Ba’athist movement, and was President of Iraq from 1979 to 2003. Like Nasser, Hussein drew a close connection between himself and Saladin[17], and made sure it was known that he shared the sultan’s birthplace, the village of Takrit.[18] Saddam’s methods of making these connections varied widely. In 1987 a colloquium on Saladin was held in Takrit, titled “The Battle for Liberation – from Saladin to Saddam Hussein,” and that same year, an Iraqi publisher produced a children’s book entitled “The Hero Saladin.”[19] The cover featured a picture of Saddam Hussein, who stood in front of a Medieval horseman.[20] Additionally, a mural on Saddam’s palace wall depicted Saladin watching his horsemen, as next to him “Saddam admired his tanks rolling to an imagined victory against the West”.[21]


Saladin and Saddam Hussein (source:


[1] Faksh, Mahmud A. 1993. Withered Arab Nationalism. Orbis 37 (3) (Summer 1993): 425-38.

[2] Ibid, 425-426.

[3] Benjamin, Daniel, and Steven Simon. The Age of Sacred Terror: Radical Islam’s War against America. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003. Print.

[4] Hillenbrand, Carole. The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives. Psychology Press, 2000, 595.

[5] Mohomran. “The Other Side of Suez (BBC Documentary).” YouTube. YouTube, 22 July 2012. Web. 29 May 2016.

[6] “Modern History Sourcebook: President Nasser: Denouncement of the Proposal for a Canal Users’ Association, 1956.” Modern History Sourcebook:. Paul Halsall, July-Aug. 1998. Web. 29 May 2016.

[7] BruhMan85. “Abdel Nasser Speech After The War of 1956 *English Subtitles*.” YouTube. YouTube, 25 Sept. 2013. Web. 30 May 2016.

[8] Because Saladin was such a perfect historical model for Arab Nationalism, his Kurdish ethnicity was overlooked.

[9] Phillips, Jonathan.  In ‘European Receptions of the Crusades in the Nineteenth Century. Franco-German Perspectives International Workshop – Research Group ‘Myths of the Crusades’. Eckert. Dossiers 4 (2011). Web.

[10] Caruthers, Osgood. “Nasser’s Star Rising in All Arab States: His Appeals to Nationalism Have Won Support Against Enemies.” New York Times, Mar 30 1958.

[11] Karsh, Efraim. Islamic Imperialism: A History. Second. Great Britain: Yale University Press, 2013. Print.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “The Six Day War: Statement by President Nasser to Arab Trade Unionists.” Jewish Virtual Library. N.p., 26 May 1967. Web.

[15] Jabzy. “Six Day War: 3 Minute History.” YouTube. N.p., 16 Mar. 2015. Web.

[16] Ibid.

[17] BIB: History World, Saladin the Great, Lulu Press, Inc, 2013.

[18] Saddam, who ruthlessly persecuted Kurds, also conveniently “forgot” Saladin’s true ethnicity.

[19]  Phillips, Jonathan.  In ‘European Receptions of the Crusades in the Nineteenth Century. Franco-German Perspectives International Workshop – Research Group ‘Myths of the Crusades’. Eckert.Dossiers 4 (2011). Web. .

[20]Cline, Eric H. “Saddam Hussein and History 101.” ByGeorge! March 4, 2003. Web.

[21]  Phillips, Jonathan.  In ‘European Receptions of the Crusades in the Nineteenth Century. Franco-German Perspectives International Workshop – Research Group ‘Myths of the Crusades’. Eckert.Dossiers 4 (2011). Web.


Hollywood and The Crusades

Movies are more than just a popular pastime: they also reflect the current values of the society in which they were made. Screenwriters, producers, and directors often have a specific agenda that they want to communicate through their film, and an analysis of these agendas enable us to learn about the current cultural and ideological spirit of the time. Specifically, films about the Crusades reflect current ideologies regarding the West’s interaction with the Middle East, Christian-Muslim relations, and war at large. According to Lorraine Kochanske Stock,

Crusading ideology thus became a translatable cultural lingua franca employed to justify or further a variety of political and cultural agendas, including the justification of subsequent wars, whether religiously motivated or not (Stock, 97).

In particular, filmmakers favor telling the story of the Third Crusade (1189-1192), as the Third Crusade has two equally powerful characters, the Christian Richard the Lionheart and the Muslim Saladin. Depictions of these characters “reflect the contemporaneous political expectations of the particular audiences for whom these educating entertainments were created” (Stock, 98). Examining the way the Third Crusade was portrayed in movies throughout the 20th and 21st centuries enables us to glean what the current societal attitudes were of the time.

The Crusades (1935)


The first major film produced in Hollywood whose plot was entirely dedicated to recounting a Crusade story was Paramount’s The Crusades. Released in 1935, the film was directed by Cecil B. DeMille, one of the most prolific and successful filmmakers in all of Hollywood’s history. Despite the fact that the film has some major historical inaccuracies, it was relatively well received, being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 1935.

Set in the time of the 3rd Crusade (1189-1192), the film recounts the story of how King Richard I of England, also known as King Richard the Lionheart (portrayed by Henry Wilcoxen), takes up the cross and goes on a crusade to return Jerusalem to Christian dominion. Richard’s motivations are not only religious and nationalistic: the film portrays him agreeing to go on the Crusade in part to avoid marrying Princess Alice of France. Along the way, Richard encounters Berengaria, Princess of Navarre (Loretta Young), whom he marries in exchange for rations; however, Saladin (Ian Keith) captures Berengaria and attempts to win her over by bringing her to Jerusalem. The Crusaders partake in several battles, but eventually they reach Jerusalem. At Jerusalem, Berengaria mitigates the established long triangle by convincing them to promote peace and not fight. Ultimately, Richard and Saladin declare a truce (DeMille 1935, The Crusades).

This film reflects the current ideology of the time because, as most effectively demonstrated the final scenes when Richard and Saladin confront each other in Jerusalem, it promotes an ideology of peace instead of war, the predominant sentiment of the 1930s. In her seminal essay “Now Starring in the Third Crusade: Depictions of Richard I and Saladin in Film and Television Series,” Stock argues, “The film also employs medieval events to reflect America’s post-World War I mood of isolationism and neutrality.” In the scene where Berengaria tries to convince Richard and Saladin not to fight she declares:

Berengaria: Oh Richard, you must believe. I’ve never loved anyone but you. I love you now. Don’t make me suffer more. If only we could put an end to pain. If only we could have peace. If you fight on, thousands and thousands more will die. Richard, you mustn’t.

Richard: You know how to yield to a conqueror. You think to teach me?

Berengaria: We’ve been blind. We were proud, dearest, when we took the cross, and in our pride we fought to conquer Jerusalem. We tried to ride through blood to the holy place of God. But now, now we suffer.

Saladin: The holy city of Allah!

Berengaria: Oh what if we call him Allah or God, shall men fight because they travel different roads to him? There’s only one God. His cross is burned deep into our hearts. It’s here, and we must carry it with us wherever we go. Oh don’t you see, Richard, there’s only one way. Peace. Make peace between Christian and Saracen.

Richard: You ask me to lay down my sword?

Berengaria: If you love me.

In this scene, Berengaria directly mimics contemporary times by acting as a medieval “League of Nations” (Aberth, 89). This scene reflects the predominant American desire to be isolationist and avoid war in the post-WWI and Great Depression era, even at the expense of portraying historical accuracy. In fact, concurrent to the release of the film, the US Congress passed four neutrality laws known as the Neutrality Acts in the mid-1930s, affirming the noninterventionist stance in the US, particularly as other parts of the world seemed headed for war (Aberth, 91). In summary, The Crusades reflects the contemporary Western view in the 1930s that peace should be promoted at the expense of war, and especially at the expense of any casualties.

 King Richard and the Crusaders (1954)


Two decades later in 1954, Warner Bros. released King Richard and the Crusaders, directed by David Butler. Based on Sir Walter Scott’s The Talisman (1825), this movie also narrates events from the Third Crusade: it too tells the story of Richard the Lionheart (George Sanders) attempting to win back Jerusalem. In this movie, a group of disloyal Crusaders attempts to assassinate Richard the Lionhearted. With Richard ailing, a Saracen rides into the Crusader camp pretending to be a doctor, and he eventually falls in love with the king’s ward, Lady Edith Plantagenet (Virginia Mayo). The conspirators are exposed and punished, and Lady Edith and her fiancee, Sir Kenneth (Laurence Harvey), a loyal knight to Richard, both abandon the Holy Land and go back to Scotland. Rated as one of the 50 worst films of the 20th century, King Richard and the Crusaders is more of a love story much like The Crusades, sacrificing its ability to be a film that comes even close to historical accuracy (Harty, 149).

Although made twenty years later, this film reflects similar anti-war sentiments that were found during the time of The Crusades. As with Berengaria, this movie also consists of a female lead, Lady Edith Plantagenet, who voices opposition to war. She says:

“I’m beginning to despise war. The dread, the wondering each time you rise away if you’ll come back among the living … War, war! That’s all you ever think about, Dick Plantagenet! You burner, you pillager!”

Similar to the anti-war ideology that followed the destruction of World War I, this movie reflects similar anti-war sentiments. Coming out in the wake of World War II and the Korean War (1950-53), both of which experienced millions of casualties and altered the American mindset forever, this is another anti-war message spread through the medium of a Crusades movie. The fact that the film promotes peace over war reflects the fact that Americans in Hollywood wanted to mirror peaceful sentiments in their films.

Saladin the Victorious (1963)


Although not technically a Hollywood film, Saladin offers a unique insight of a nonwestern film and its portrayal of the Crusades. Released less than a decade after King Richard and the Crusaders, the Egyptian film Saladin follows the events of the Third Crusade while drawing on political and geographical events that occurred in the years leading up to its production in Egypt. Director Youssef Chahine utilizes the legendary figure of Saladin and his accomplishments in recapturing Jerusalem and pushing the Christians out of the Holy Land to push the ideology of Pan-Arabism. This secular ideology stems from the desire for a united Arab state based around culture and history, one that transgresses national borders. This film uses the Crusades and the figure of Saladin as a symbol to encourage this Pan-Arab nationalism in the time that it was released.

In the opening scene of the movie there is a clear connection that Chahine is trying to make between the lives and struggles of Arabs facing crusaders in Jerusalem and the current lives of Arabs in 1963. We see people suffering in poverty and Crusaders raiding villages, which at the time, would have been very relatable for the Arab audience in 1963, given the recent conflicts in the region centered around the creation of an Israeli state and the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 (Finke, 209). The movie goes on to show Saladin (Ahmed Mazhar) stepping in to liberate Jerusalem and unite the people as one cohesive Arab nation. This ties to the events of that time where Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser had recently resisted British, French, and Israeli forces in the Suez Crisis. Chahine clearly creates a parallel between Saladin who liberated Jerusalem and united Arabs and Nasser, a strong supporter of Pan-Arab nationalism, and who was perceived at the time as fighting off the foreign occupiers. (Finke, 211)

Throughout the film Chahine makes a point of downplaying the religious motivations behind the crusades in favor of his Pan-Arabism narrative. He does this through explicit use of the word “Arab” instead of “Muslim” when referring to his people. One reason for this downplay would be to further his support for Egyptian President Nasser and his Pan-Arabism goal. A key factor to Nasser’s Pan-Arab movement was the objective to wipe out Israel as a state. (Finke, 221) Because of this, Chahine suppresses showing Saladin’s widely renowned religious tolerance and does not show or speak of any Jews throughout the movie, despite the Jews having a significant presence in the Holy Land during the time of the Crusades. (Finke, 222)

While the film glorifies Saladin as a great military commander and a savior to the Arab people, it portrays the Crusader army and their leaders as quite the opposite. They are depicted as being driven only by the desire to accumulate wealth and power. Reynald of Chatillon (Ahmed Louxor) is one of the most prominent examples as he is shown mistreating his own troops as well as the Arab people. He is shown stealing water from his own men and characterized as having no consideration for the life of those below him. In another scene he is shown raiding a caravan of Arab pilgrims. The only crusader who is shown as being noble and a worthy opponent of Saladin is King Richard the Lionhearted (Hamdi Geiss). We are shown his desire to help the Christian people of Jerusalem and the Middle East when Reynald’s wife Virginia goes to Richard to convince him to go on the Crusade to free Jerusalem. She appeals to Richard’s chivalric nature that he is famous for by telling him of the horrors and tragedies being inflicted on the Christians. This motivates Richard to go and cements the idea that among all the corrupt crusaders, he is the only one who can truly rival Saladin. (Finke, 214)

Director Chahine uses the film as a way of subtly advancing the ideology of Pan-Arabism and putting political motivation behind it rather than any religious undertones. At the time, Pan-Arabism had been widely popularized by Egyptian President Nasser and Chahine’s support for him is shown throughout the movie. It is another good insight into how a non-Western film portrays the Crusaders as being savage and motivated by wealth and power rather than religion. The film shows how the depiction of the crusades can be altered to push a secular ideology despite the Crusades themselves being a primarily religious struggle.

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)


In more recent times, Hollywood again used the Crusades as medium through which to express a particular message of peace and tolerance. There is perhaps no other movie about the Crusades that has had such high stakes in its depiction of Christians and Muslims. Released in 2005, Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven involves Balian (Orlando Bloom), a blacksmith in a French village who has recently lost his wife and killed his brother in a fit of rage, being eventually drawn to the Crusades by his father, Godfrey (Liam Neeson). Although experiencing a number of obstacles, including losing all his comrades in a shipwreck, Balian reaches the Holy Land and is introduced to the Christian political elite.

The movie was released during a pivotal moment for relations between the West and the Muslim world, when America was still reeling from the 9/11 Attacks and Iraq was experiencing a full-scale American invasion and occupation. In essence, the stakes for Scott were high; the movie came out just a few years after President Bush’s mere uttering of the word “crusade” caused a widespread backlash (Waxman). 

For that reason, the film could not wholly avoid controversy. Many critics questioned the film’s historical accuracy, and historians on both sides found it to be offensive to either Christians or Muslims, arguing that it could be seen as a “battle over our collective memory about the Crusades and their continuity with contemporary Western interventions in the Middle East” (Haydock, 134).

It is in this context that Kingdom of Heaven is placed, and the film makes the active choice throughout its entirety to downplay the religious fanaticism and extremism that has driven geopolitical tensions in the 21st century. In fact, the film gives little attention to religion, unless it is expressing the dangers that religious fanaticism can bring. In multiple instances, the “villains” of the film, both Christian and Muslim, are the ones that use religion to fuel violence, and most Templars are “not holy warriors in this film” (Woods, 163). In this scene, Templar knights are shown committing atrocities against their Muslim enemies, culminating in a showdown between Reynald of Chatillon (Brendan Gleeson) and Saladin’s sister (Giannina Facio-Scott) where he ends up killing her.  

On the contrary, both the Christian and Muslim “heroes” of the film, including the protagonist, Balian, and the Muslim leader, Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), are seen as good, moral men, but not overtly pious. It is in this way that Kingdom of Heaven distances itself from being an overtly pro-Western patriotic film that dehumanizes the Muslim enemy, instead choosing to portray a message that opposes religious extremism. In one particular scene, Balian proclaims that he has “lost” his religion, with a Hospitaler ally replying that he puts “no stock in religion” as it can drive men to be murderers.

Additionally, in many scenes, both Balian and Saladin express virtue, even at expense of the film’s historical accuracy. Saladin and Balian are shown dictating the terms of surrender at the end of the film, where Saladin agrees to let all the Christians leave Jerusalem freely, even though in actuality, he required a ransom from the Crusaders for their safe departure. 

In a separate vein though, the film provides a biased allusion to the current American occupation of Iraq. In many scenes, Christians are depicted not just as invading foreigners, but people that bring positivity and resourcefulness to the Muslim world. In one scene, albeit biased in its depiction, a Christian is showing the Muslims how to irrigate their own land, which can be equated to the American claim that the bombing of Baghdad and the subsequent occupation was to liberate and “save” their population, providing them a brighter future. Additionally, Balian’s kindness expressed towards Imad ad-Din (Alexander Siddig), a Muslim enemy who helps guide him to the Holy Land after Balian kills his comrade, can also be seen through the lens of American occupation in Iraq. By depicting a Westerner punishing the Muslim enemy but showing mercy and supplying aid to other Muslims not deemed a threat, the scene is a clear example of the “enthusiastic representation of the ideals that support American intervention in the Middle East” today (Haydock, 146). Balian, representing the generosity of the American occupiers, gives a horse to Imad, and in turn, gains the respect of his Muslim counterparts.

On the other hand, the West is sometimes portrayed as inferior in the film, especially as Kingdom of Heaven is often used as an example of the enduring legacies of Sir Walter Scott’s Crusades novels, which downplayed the superiority or even morality of the West. The film contains many elements of a Scott novel, including the downplaying of religious fervor, where the chivalrous men on both sides, including Saladin, are not “genuinely moved by religion or the crusade ideal” (Riley-Smith, 65). In fact, like many of Scott’s novels, the film makes a pointed effort to stress the cruelty and greed of members of the Christian clergy in particular, such as the atrocities committed by Reynald and other Templars, and for the most part, shies away from implying any superiority of the West (Riley-Smith, 67).

In short, the film spreads a message of peace, reflecting liberal American values of religious tolerance and the separation of church and state by making the true heroes, regardless of religion or ethnicity, be simply decent men. By demonstrating the dangers of religious zeal through the actions of some of the Saracens and Templars (Guy, Reynald), Scott expresses the fear that permeated American society at the time; that is, the fear of violent extremism that is just as real in the 21st century as it was in the 12th.


Aberth, John. Knight at the Movies: Medieval History on Film. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.

El Naser Salah el Dine. Dir. Youssef Chain. Lotus Films, 1963. Film.

Finke, Laurie, and Martin B. Shichtman. Cinematic Illuminations: The Middle Ages on Film. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2010. Print.

Harty, Kevin J. The Reel Middle Ages: Films About Medieval Europe. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 1999. Print.

Haydock, Nickolas. Movie Medievalism: The Imaginary Middle Ages. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 2008. Print.

King Richard and the Crusaders. Dir. David Butler. Warner Bros., 1954. Film.

Kingdom of Heaven. Dir. Ridley Scott. Twentieth Century Fox, 2005. Film.

Pure, Alex. “Pop Culture Reshapes Role of Crusades.” Hamilton University. 9 Oct. 2009. Web.

Stock, Lorraine Kochanske. “Now Starring in the Third Crusade: Depictions of Richard I and Saladin in Films and Television Series.” Hollywood in the Holy Land: Essays on Film Depictions of the Crusades and Christian-Muslim Clashes. Ed. Nickolas Haydock. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. 97-115. Print.

The Crusades. Dir. Cecil B. DeMille. Paramount, 1935. Film.

Waxman, Sharon. “Film on Crusades Could Become Hollywood’s Next Battleground.” New York Times. 12 Aug. 2004. Web.

Woods, William F. The Medieval Filmscape: Reflections of Fear and Desire in a Cinematic Mirror. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 2014. Print.


Uses of The Crusades in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

 Historical Background

The origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is initially traced back to the emergence of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century. In Der Judenstaat, Theodore Herzl, a founder of modern political Zionism, expressed the need for a Jewish nation state in either Palestine or Argentina to curtail the worsening persecution of European Jews (Cohen 134-135).  The establishment of Zionist presence in the middle east is generally traced back to the Balfour Declaration, yet the most important event arguably took place on December 11, 1917 with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. On this date, some people claim that British General Edmund Allenby entered Jerusalem and declared, “the wars of the Crusades are now complete” (Bazian). Ultimately, this event, referred to by some as “The Last Crusade,” allowed Western imperialists to carry out the Zionist cause and set the geopolitical stage for the following century of conflict in the middle east.

Several key events are worth noting in the build up to the creation of British-mandate Palestine. In 1915, Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in Cairo, promised to support Husain Ibn Ali, the Sherif of Mecca, in his bid to restore an independent Arab Kingdom in exchange for support against the Ottomans (Lacquer 15-16). McMahon’s promise was broken in 1916 with a secret agreement between Britain and France, officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement, or the Sykes-Picot Agreement, that allocated various parts of the Middle East between the two Western powers (Lacquer 12).  In November 1917 Zionist goals came closer to fruition with the Balfour Declaration, in which the British and U.S. governments stated support for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine (Lacquer 17). This declaration was duly motivated by sympathy for the Zionist cause as well as the British imperial desire to secure British influence in the region east of the Suez Canal. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Britain gained control of Palestine and the area became known as British-mandate Palestine. For the next several decades, British-mandate Palestine was largely characterized by intercommunal violence and unrest between the Jewish and Arab population.

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(The map on the left shows British-mandate Palestine, while the map on the right reveals the 1922 division of the territory into Jewish and Arab Palestine)

In November 1947 the General Assembly of the United Nations sought to end the violence upon the impending removal of British influence in the region by recommending the partition of British-mandate Palestine into a separScreen Shot 2016-05-30 at 3.11.30 PMate Jewish and Arab state. The map on the right shows the UN General Assembly recommended partition plan that gave the Jewish population 55% of the territory and the Arab population 45%.  This proposal was accepted by the Zionist movement, but Palestinians believed that the proposal did not accurately reflect the demographic distribution of the region, as the Jewish population owned only 6% of the territory at the time. In 1948, Zionist leaders launched The War of Independence and established the State of Israel, seizing control of Gaza Strip and allowing Jordan to establish control of the West Bank. This division of territory led to a tumultuous conflict for the next several decades that erupted on June 5, 1967 during what is known as the “Six Day War.” During this conflict Israel established settlements in Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, and the West Bank; biblical lands of the Jewish people that right-wing Israelis called “Judea and Samaria.” In response, the UN security Council passed Resolution 242, which called for “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” and established the idea that “land for peace” would be the basis of all subsequent peace negotiations in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Like the Crusades, this conflict emerged over questions of borders and territory. (

On October 6, 1973 the conflict once again erupted in violence when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israeli forces in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Despite initial gains, the Egyptian and Syrian forces were pushed back by Israeli counter-attacks and failed to regain control over the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights; however, the Arab states saw the war as a political victory that exposed Israeli vulnerabilities. This conflict lasted for three weeks and became known as the Yom Kippur War by Israelis or the Ramadan War by Arabs. The conflict seemed to reach a resolution in the late 1970’s when U.S. President Jimmy Carter succeeded at reaching a compromise during the Camp David Accords. At Camp David, Israel agreed to hand back the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in return for peace and normalization. Arab nations were outraged by Egypt’s negotiations and Egypt was expelled from the Arab League.

The Camp David Accords were a major step towards peace in the Middle East, but by June 1982 violence erupted once again when Israel invaded Lebanon in an attempt to stop Hezbollah forces from staging attacks against Northern Israeli communities. During this invasion Israeli militias massacred about 2,000 unarmed Palestinians. In 1987, a Palestinian Intifada (uprising) began in the West Bank and Gaza. This Intifada lasted six years, and resulted in the death or injury of over 20,000 people. In 1988, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat attempted to end the violence by condemning all forms of terrorism and becoming the first Palestinian leader to recognize the Israeli state. Following suit, Jordan renounced all territorial claims to the West Bank, and the U.S. entered a substantive dialogue with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

In 1993 peace talks between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Oslo finally put an end to the existential conflict as the PLO gave up its claim to Israel’s territory as defined by its pre-1967 borders. In return, Israel recognized the PLO and gave them limited autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza in return for peace. This peace compromise reflected the initial formula of “land for peace,” and represented a major step in the peace process.

Peace talks between Arafat and Rabin culminated in the signing of the Taba Agreement in September of 1995; this allowed for Palestinian elections and self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza. However, these peace talks stagnated following Rabin’s assassination roughly a month after the Taba agreement.

Rabin was succeeded by Binyamin Netanyahu who promised that he would only pursue a policy of “Peace with Security.” Netanyahu agreed to hand over 80% of the West Bank to Palestinian rule, but he insisted on retaining the other 20%, which consisted of only a few hundred Jewish settlers among 20,000 Palestinians. In 1999, Netanyahu was replaced by Ehud Barak, who campaigned on a platform of bringing an end to all conflicts between Israel and its neighbors. Barak continued peace talks with Arafat and continues to slowly transfer land in the West Bank back to the Palestinians, until the two sides once again come to a stalemate in May of 2000. At the second Camp David Accords Israel offered to hand over 95% of the West Bank and Gaza to Palestine, but Palestinians believed that anything less than 100% of the territories was unacceptable because it would only comprise a small portion of what was originally Palestine. In September 2000, Palestinians once again erupted in a violent Intifada that formally put an end to the seven years of peace negotiations in Oslo. Since then, neither side has been willing to budge on this issue as Israel feels that retaining some presence in the region is vital to national security, while the Palestinians oppose any agreement that creates a disconnected Palestinian territory. (

This ongoing conflict can be attributed to three main schools of thought regarding crusader phenomena. The first sees the Arab-Israeli conflict as a religious confrontation between Islam and Christianity and the impending Christian crusader threat. The second sees the conflict as an extension of European imperialist goals that first originated during the Crusades. The last interpretation views the conflict as an extension of the ongoing confrontation in the Middle East between East and West that began during the 5th century BCE. (Ohana 134) (This link contains a 90 second summary of the Arab-Israeli conflict)

(This video shows an evolving map of the territory)

Hamas and Palestinian Considerations of the Conflict

The battle between Palestine and Israel is understood by Palestinians as a war against “Zionist occupiers.”  As a battle with a wealth of evidence due to its long duration, we find ties to the Arab understanding of the Crusades and Jihad in a number of different sources.  In this section, we will focus specifically on this Palestinian narrative and understanding, and tie it to the broader context of the memory of the Crusades in this conflict.

To understand the rhetoric used by Palestinian fighters, we turn to Hamas, as the militarized arm of the movement for a separate Palestinian state.  Hamas’ justification of this conflict is understood through religious terms, and it is expressly stated in Article One of Hamas’ charter that their movement “is Islam.”  Hamas also understands the establishment of a Zionist state as an invasion with dire consequences for all Muslims (Article 9).  Crucial to understanding the Palestinian view, however, is the idea that Hamas and its soldiers do not see their battle with Israel as another Crusade.  Instead, the two are deliberately understood as separate, because the Crusaders and the Jews are not the same enemies in the eyes of Hamas.  This is an important distinction because, although Hamas does consider this war a “Jihad” against foreign occupiers, Hamas views the Crusades as a closed chapter in history; as a battle decisively won by Muslim warriors like Saladin (Article 35).

If the Crusades are a closed chapter in history, with different enemies in a different time, why are they mentioned eight times in Hamas’ charter?  The answer is not immediately obvious.  At the end of the charter however, the purpose of these illusions is revealed:

“The Islamic Resistance Movement views seriously the defeat of the Crusaders at the hands of Salah ed-Din al-Ayyubi and the rescuing of Palestine from their hands… The Movement draws lessons and examples from all this. The present Zionist onslaught has also been preceded by Crusading raids from the West and other Tatar raids from the East. Just as the Moslems faced those raids and planned fighting and defeating them, they should be able to confront the Zionist invasion and defeat it.”

In the eyes of Palestinians, the Crusades are more than a moment of glorious victory in the distant past.  Instead, they represent a roadmap for victory in their conflict with Israel.  Hamas asserts that, just as it was in the past, Palestine will be liberated only through Jihad and the return of Muslims to “true Islam” and their traditional customs.  In Hamas’ understanding, the defeat of the Crusades serves as the perfect example of this formula.

How, then, does this ideology play out in practice?  What the observer sees are two very different faces of Hamas and its beliefs.  Hamas’ English publications avoid the Crusader association entirely:

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Instead, all of Hamas’ public pieces paint Palestinians as the occupied and the oppressed.  Although we can only speculate as to why the Crusading association is avoided, it is worth noting that calls for a Palestinian state have grown considerably in the West.  Palestinians could conceivably attempt to cover up their anti-Crusader rhetoric as a means of avoiding antagonism in a moment where public opinion has begun to swing in their favor.

Although Hamas may be disassociating themselves from anti-Crusader rhetoric in their English language publications, they have not forgotten the Crusades as their example of the triumph of Islam internally.  Many Hamas affiliated clerics still preach this exact Jihad theology when out of the public eye:

“The Jews are convinced that their annihilation and the destruction of their state will never be accomplished by secular, reactionary, pan-Arab, or Ba’thist regimes. Their annihilation and the destruction of their state will only be achieved through Islam, by those who bow before Allah.”

It is apparent, then, that the Palestinian fighters do not only look to the Crusades as a precursor to their own victory.  Surprisingly, they also seem very aware of Israeli fear of its own position, the same position in which the Crusader states found themselves during the rise of Saladin.

These are more than haphazard thoughts.  Instead, what readers on both sides of the issue see is a well-developed, highly thought out Palestinian understanding of this conflict that draws deeply upon their cultural memory of the Crusades.

Zionist Response to the Use of The Crusades

In May 2013, Rabbi Eli Kavon closed an opinion editorial with the following sentence: “The myth of the ‘Zionist Crusader’ is a distortion of history that has only yielded lies and misery” (Kavon, “The Myth of the Zionist Crusader”). His case, which culminates in this statement, rests on the assertions that a Jewish state in Israel is neither imperialistic nor foreign and that the events of the Crusades have no bearing on modern Jewish actions. Zionists and Jews all over the world agree that a comparison between crusaders and Zionists is baseless and ludicrous, used by Palestinians in what will ultimately be a fruitless attempt to paint Jews as evil occupiers. The Jewish response to Zionist-crusader comparison approaches the matter with one fundamental assumption: that Israel is the original indigenous Jewish homeland. If Israel is the indigenous homeland of the Jewish population, it is their rightful place; by establishing a state there, Zionists cannot be deemed invaders, imperialists, or crusaders. The symbolic connection to the physical land of Israel that the Zionist community has cultivated since the War of Independence forms the crux of their response to accusations of crusader identity.

One Zionist response to being compared to crusaders is to examine the geopolitical maps of the Crusades themselves. Kavon argues that “while the Islamic world today decries ‘Crusader imperialism,’ the reality is that the West has thwarted the imperial dreams of Muslims to control much of the world” (Kavon). He argues that the disparate and warring Muslim factions of the region during the Crusades has imperialist intentions themselves. As each group sought to expand its control and defeat the other geopolitical powers, often other Muslim sects, they encountered the Crusaders, whose intention during the First Crusade was tied more closely to defending Byzantium and conquering Jerusalem than to imperial rule over Muslims. Throughout the era of Latin Kingdoms in the East, the Muslim-Christian divide was not one of black-and-white antagonism: truces, trade relationships, and alliances between Muslims and Christians were possible. Kavon draws on these elements of the Crusades’ geopolitical history to argue that the Crusades were a far more complicated situation than Palestinian propagandists make it out to be, and that Zionists should be left out of the situation altogether. He argues that the Palestinians have rewritten the history with Muslims in the role of victim to a cohesive force whose goal was their destruction, and that the Palestinians now see Zionists as perpetuating this framework. Neither Muslims in the region nor Christians had such clear-cut roles in the Crusades, he argues, and furthermore, if anyone could be seen as having imperial intentions, it was the Muslim groups that warred amongst themselves at the time. Ultimately, however, Kavon returns to the idea of the Jewish connection to the land. He declares,

Palestine was not the Promised Land of the Christian conquerors. […] Anti-Israel propagandists can continue to rob the State of Israel of its legitimacy by portraying Jews as a foreign, imperialist element in the Land of Israel, yet in the end, the truth will win out. The Zionist movement—an anti-imperialist movement to the core—returned the Jewish people to their homeland.

The connection to the Promised Land is described by Meron Benvenisti as moledet, a Hebrew word that literally means “birthplace” (Benvenisti 19). He explains that moledet has been established by the first generations of Zionist immigrants as a “deep attachment to the country” (Benvenisti 19-20) that must be nurtured in newer generations. As immigrants claiming a spiritual home but leaving behind a physical one, early Zionists found themselves in a foreign landscape. They sought to establish and deepen communal connections to the physical geography of Israel in order to develop a sense of geographical belonging and home in the Promised Land that was analogous to their spiritual one. Programming specifically devoted to this end “in the school curriculum and in army instruction courses” was established early (Benvenisti 19). The Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel considers moledet “a positive act, probably unique, of possessing the land” and immediately began to take efforts to care for and protect the flora and fauna in ways that had not been enacted by the Palestinians previously living there (Benvenisti 23). Benvenisti sums up the message that this is intended to send: “You Palestinians despoil the land indiscriminately because you do not feel for it, ergo it is not your homeland; we look after it, therefore it is ours” (Benvenisti 24). It is this connection to the land, simultaneously deeply spiritual and tangibly physical, that encapsulates Zionists’ belief in their right to it and that renders useless the suggestion that they are invaders. How can Zionists be considered crusaders, they ask, if they are people who are not invading a land with imperialist intentions but rather indigenous people who are returning home at last to care for their beloved country after a long and painful exile? Benvenisti encapsulates this feeling:

How foolish are the attempts to compare us to the Crusaders; how utterly absurd is the perception of us as a bunch of rootless drifters. The seedling, planted almost one hundred years ago, has grown into a robust and ramified tree, with roots deeply thrust in the soil of moledet (33).

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An anomalous, presumably early Zionist poster that paints “the crusader” in a positive light, and thus uses the crusades as an event of valor and bravery rather than destruction and colonialism. The lion in the top right corner is a direct reference to the coat of arms of Richard the Lionheart, King of England. It is unclear whether this poster was intended for a Jewish or European audience.

Zionist Anxiety of the Crusades

Despite the typical insistence that their goals are unilaterally different from those of the medieval Crusaders, Zionists have, throughout the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, used the Crusades to articulate a sense of anxiety towards their existence as a small state, surrounded by antagonistic powers, that survives only through the support of Western entities. In a way, this historical use of the crusades comes from an internalization of the Zionist-Crusader analogy that predicts a second coming of Saladin and his victory at Hattin. As David Ohana summarizes in the chapter “The Crusader Anxiety” from his book Origins of Israeli Mythology: Neither Canaanites Nor Crusaders, “this anxiety represents a hidden traumatic fear that the Zionist project and the Israeli place might end in destruction” (Ohana 131).

Beyond simply using the Crusades to articulate the precariousness of this situation, however, these historians seek to analyze the Kingdom of Jerusalem in an attempt to avoid the strategic and social errors that led its downfall. Thus, although the Jews are extremely hesitant to draw the Zionist-Crusader analogy (for fear of confirming the Palestinian suspicion of their colonialist motivations), they nonetheless find the Kingdom of Jerusalem useful because it existed in a political situation similar to Israel.

“There can be nothing more dangerous than a historical analogy if it is overstated . . . At the same time, one should not rule out the possibility of learning about an existing situation through a study of similar situations. For that reason, the history of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem has a special interest for the Zionists, although the Latins of the Middle Ages who came to the country to set up a Christian state were Christians, not Jews by religion, and Aryans, not Semites by race” (137 Ohana quoting Menahem Ussishkin)

It seems that Zionist historians have focused on the Crusaders’ unwillingness to settle in the East and create a sustaining agricultural economy. Israeli historian Joshua Prawer called the crusaders “a population of city-dwellers crowded together behind the walls of fortified cities or castles,” and says that their reliance on muslim rather than Christian peasantry engendered ill will towards their rule. Ohana argues that “It was not possible to control the country from stone fortresses without the support of a well-disposed peasantry” (146). The lack of an established system of settlement led to a failure to adopt a strategy of “spatial defense” which would have proven useful in defending the major cities of the Kingdom against Muslim advances.

Perhaps in an effort to not repeat this mistake, the Israeli’s have from the beginning stressed a symbolic as well as literal connection to their land. (having trouble tying up this argument by showing how historians/politicians have actually done this).

A second, but not unrelated anxiety of the Crusades for the Jews was the history of the massacres of 1096 in the Rhineland. This history, more directly translatable than the Zionist-Crusader analogy, puts the Holocaust into a context the 1000 years of anti-Semitic violence in Europe. The Zionists use the Rhineland massacres to justify their moving to the Middle East as an survivalist escape out of an inhospitable Europe. This history demonstrates that the Zionists are not historical parallels to the Crusaders, but rather were attacked and massacred indiscriminately by the Crusaders.

“The main question faced by the crusaders was how to set up in the midst of the oriental Muslim states a Christian centre which would be different from its neighbours in religion, origin, language, and culture – one which sprang from the West and was nurtured by it. The same question confronts the Zionists . . . The Zionists, however, are different from the crusaders” (Ohana 137 quoting Shemuel Ussishkin The West in the East 1931).

As Ohana summarizes, the Crusades were an utter failure, but “this fact only increases the necessity of studying their history in order to examine the reasons for the failure and in order to learn how to avoid the mistakes which had so many fateful consequences” (138).


Yigal Tumarkin, from Belvoir Crusader Fortress sculpture garden, 1994-1996. Image courtesy of Tumarkin, an Israeli painter and sculptor, often uses his art to critique Jewish nationalism from the inside. This use of the Crusades would have thus served to emphasize the military and colonial aspects of Zionism. The combination of crusader imagery with the modern mechanical motifs connects the crusader armies to modern-day IDF.


The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict has been characterized by its convoluted and antagonistic nature. Each side deeply feels a connection to the space as a spiritual and physical homeland, and the complex mark that the Crusades left on the geopolitics of this region continues to manifest itself in this conflict. Their legacy is clear in the cultural memory of the Palestinian people, who see themselves as victims of a crusade all over again, as well as in the anxiety of Zionists, who fear a crusader-like failure. Ultimately, the memory of the Crusades rises to the forefront of the conflict by demonstrating that a thousand years later, humans are asking themselves the same questions about faith, home, and conflict: who has claim to this earthly and spiritual space?


Works Cited/Useful Resources

Bazian, Hatem. “Revisiting the British Conquest of Jerusalem.” Aljazeera. 14 Dec. 2014. Web. 10 May 2016.

“Maps of Israel and Palestine.” Maps. Web. 30 May 2016.

Laqueur, Walter, and Barry M. Rubin. The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict. New York: Penguin, 2001. Print.

History of The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, American Documentary Inc., 2001.

Cohen, Michael Joseph. The Origins and Evolution of the Arab-Zionist Conflict. Berkeley: U of California, 1987. Print.

Gelvin, James L. The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. Print.

Lukacs, Yehuda, and Abdalla M. Battah. The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Two Decades of Change. Boulder: Westview, 1988. Print.

Ohana, David. “The Crusader Anxiety”. Origins of Israeli Mythology: Neither Canaanites Nor Crusaders. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 131-181.


The Evolving Scholarship of the Crusades


The Evolving Scholarship of the Crusades


The Enlightenment, 17th-18th Centuries

As the Thirty Year’s War came to a close in 1648, Europe ended a historical chapter of religious conflict stretching back to the Crusades. Ending the last of a series of religious wars provided Europeans scholars with a sense of closure. For the first time they began to treat the Crusades as a crystallized event of the past. This treatment enabled them to pass judgements on the ethics of the Crusades and to analyze its legacy. As a means of characterization, Crusades historiographers often dub this period as the Enlightenment period of Crusade historians, since most artifacts from the period treat the Crusades with an attitude of rational skepticism reminiscent of the Enlightenment spirit.

Anti-Catholic, Anti-Laudian Sentiment in England in the 1600’s

This period of history-writing began in England with Thomas Fuller’s 1639 Historie of the Holy Warre. Fuller was an Anglican minister, and was therefore ideologically opposed to the idea of Catholicism. He also wrote during a tense time in England, when Catholics and Anglicans were in open conflict. This conflict was intensified by events such as the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, during which English Catholics hoped to engineer a coup d’etat and install a Catholic ruler on the English throne. That event generated a wave of anti-Catholicism that lingers in artifacts from English print culture (see picture below). 

Popish Plots and Treasons

Print by Danckertsz, c. 1627. Shows the traitorous plotting of “Papists” against Elizabeth, culminating in the Gundpower Plot. This image illustrates the belief that Catholics were alien subjects of the pope rather than the English crown, and therefore a threat to English society.

Further complicating this conflict was a dispute within the English Church itself, with Separatists on one side and Laudians on the other. Separatists were opposed to state influence in church matters and founded their own churches and communities. Laudians, on the other hand, stressed the vital role of clergy in the English Church. Puritans, a subset of the Separatists, advocated personal Biblical interpretation and were deeply suspicious of clergy and other church institutions. 

The trailer for the horror film “The Witch,” inserted above, does a good job depicting the how Puritans sought to create a community of God absent a church, venturing to America to do so. These ideological conflicts boiled over in churches all across England, sometimes resulting in violence. Historian John Spurr identifies the riots at St. Thomas the Apostle in London in 1630 as a result of the parishioner’s suspicions about “popish innovations” (89). During the riot they “hacked down the altar rails and made a bonfire of them in the churchyard” (89), manifesting their ideological hatred of church institution in violent action.

Fuller and Voltaire

These conflicts help make sense of how Fuller was applying contemporary frameworks to his interpretation of the Crusades. He uses words like “Popish” or “Papist” when describing Catholic countries such as Germany and their involvement in the Crusades. Use of these terms as pejorative are representative of his overall negative framing the Crusades endeavors. His negative view of the Crusades is best embodied by the frontispiece to his work.


The Frontispiece to Fuller’s work, which depicts Crusaders returning from the Crusades as enemies of God and as failures, draining Europe of its wealth and glory. This depiction signals Fuller’s treatment of the Crusades as a sacrilegious, not righteous endeavor that stymied European progress.

The text itself is likewise filled with value judgments on the Crusades, yet Fuller carefully takes measures to present these value judgments as separate from the history itself. For example, he titles his tenth chapter “Reasons against the Holy Warre” (15).

Sentences in the chapter such as “yet all of these reasons prevail not too forcibly, but that many are of the contrary opinion, and count this warre both needlesse and unlawful, induced thereunto with these or the like arguments” (15) signal that his text is self-conscious of its own prejudices to see the Crusading enterprise as flawed intrinsically due to Catholic influence. 

Another chapter in the work, titled “The private ends of the pope, which he is charged by authors to have had in this Holy Warre” presents several arguments which are characteristic of the Enlightenment view towards the Crusades. One of these is the ‘House of Correction’ argument, an argument which presents the Crusades as an endeavor by which the Catholic church rid Europe of feuding, destructive warlords for its own personal gains. This interpretation has some currency with actual historical events such as the Investiture Controversy, a real conflict over power in Europe between sectarian and secular rulers.

Of all the personalities of this period, perhaps the most prolific and ceaselessly opposed to the ‘Crusades-qua-virtue’ narrative was François-Marie Arouet (1694-1778)–a scholar, historian, and philosopher who is perhaps better known by his nom de plume: Voltaire. Well entrenched as he was in the Enlightenment tradition, Voltaire was deeply suspicious of religion and this skepticism–bordering at times on cynicism–is reflected in his writings on the Crusades. Voltaire assumed, along with the majority of his intellectual peers, that the crusaders could either be brutes driven by irrational religious conviction or else self-interested materialists seeking their own fame and fortune behind the guise of piety.

In his Essai Sur Les Moeurs, Voltaire picks up where Fuller left off and rehashes the ‘House of Correction’ argument. He writes:

This country [France] was peopled by a great number of new lords, who were restless, independent, fond of a life of war and dissipation, for the most part plunged in crimes that are the natural attendants of debauchery, and in an ignorance equal to their guilt: but the pope proposed to grant them remission of all their sins, and to open to them the gates of heaven, and imposing on them as a penance, the gratification of their predominant passion for plunder. (349)

As a means of contrast, a similar passage from Fuller is reproduced here:

This warre was the Pope’s house of correction, whither he sent his sturdie and stubborn enemies to be tamed. Such high-spirited men whom he either feared or suspected, he condemned to this employment, as an honourable banishment…so the Pope had this cleanly and unsuspected conveyance to rid away those he hated, by sending them against infidels. (17)

In both writers’ treatment of the same event — Pope Urban II’s extension of indulgence to crusading warriors — they reveal their wholesale rejection of religion as a motive. They represent the Church as power-hungry and scheming, and they represent the warriors as ignorant and barbaric, seeking to sate their worldly desires in an acceptable venue.

Romantic Nationalism and the Crusades

The Enlightenment was followed by the Romantic period. Romanticism was a European aesthetic and artistic movement in the 1800s, which focused on individualism. The Romantic Movement was in direct contrast to the Enlightenment’s focus on rationality and scientific exploration. Instead, Romanticism is characterized by a glorification of the past, specifically the Middle Ages. People were nostalgic for the kind of national character and talent that so defined medieval times. Many Europeans at the time wanted to unite as political entities or nation-states, which the Middle Ages exemplified. This romantic attachment to the past developed because of how the Middle Ages resembled the national feelings that they wanted to achieve: similar people in a similar place who shared culture and nationality.

Such nostalgia for the Middle Ages inevitably brought up the Crusades. After Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt and Syria between 1798-1799, the French people had a revived interest in and fascination with the Middle East. Napoleon’s movement marked the first western invasion of the area since Louis IX. (Tyerman, 97) Napoleon’s invasion paired with the backlash against the clarity and rationality of the Enlightenment allowed the Crusades took on new meaning during the Romantic period. Intellectuals during the Romantic period widely rejected the Enlightenment thinkers’ ideas about the Crusades, and instead saw them as glorious endeavors to save and develop the Western world. This idea is evident in the artistic and intellectual accounts of the Crusades from the time.

François-René de Chateaubriand, the so-called “literary father of Romanticism,” was one such intellectual who revived the Crusades with a new positivity and appreciation. (Andrea/Holt, xx) He considered the Crusades to be a defensive war in which the crusaders were saving the world from “a system of ignorance, despotism, and slavery.” (Andrea/Holt, xx) In his Génie de christianisme, published in 1802, he argued directly against Enlightenment visions of Christianity, claiming that Christianity was essential for progress. Further, he used the Crusades to provide a picture of what faith and civility should look like. (Tyerman, 102) His definition of the Crusades as a fight against barbarism made them timeless: the European duty to challenge barbarism still existed. He looked at the Crusades as a model for future western conquests in the Middle East and beyond. (Tyerman, 103) By relating the crusader invasions of Muslim countries to their own time, Chateaubriand sought to invoke nationalistic feelings. His overtly positive and romantic descriptions of the Crusades caused Europeans everywhere to relate with and support the crusader past.

Chateaubriand’s perception of the Crusades was shared with, and taken further by, Joseph François Michaud. Between his Histoire des croisades and the four-volume Bibliothéque des croisades, Michaud popularized his narrative of the Crusades, becoming one of the most influential scholars on the Crusades at his time, transforming attitudes to the crusades into positive nostalgia, rather than the Enlightenment’s rejection. (Tyerman, 105) One of the primary reasons Michaud was so successful is because he wrote that the French had a leading, heroic role in the Crusades. (Andrea/Holt, xxi) Michaud’s main point about the Crusades was that they were a “necessary step in the march toward civilization, as the crusaders battled a stagnant and barbaric Islam.” (Andrea/Holt, xxi) In other words, the Crusaders were helping their society move forward. As Christopher Tyerman said, to Michaud, “The crusades were no longer either hindrances or encouragements to the progress of civilization; they were the battle for civilization itself.” (Tyerman, 108) By claiming that the crusaders were agents in the development and modernization of mankind, Michaud tried to make them invulnerable to critique.

Perhaps most significant facet of Michaud’s argument was that the Crusades were essentially timeless, and could be fought during their time. After a trip to some of the important sites of Crusade events, he found the Muslims to be static: “the same people, the same customs, the same languages as at the time of the crusades.” (Tyerman, 110) Michaud’s relation of the Crusades to his own time resembles the nationalistic feelings so sought after during the Romantic period. Michaud took these feelings further, essentially stating that the French could, and should, take over areas of the Middle East, just like the crusaders had done before them. The Crusades were a “prelude to his own day,” which was confirmed with Napoleon’s invasions in the Middle East. (Andrea/Holt, xxi) Michaud’s accounts of the Crusades were popular because he equated the French with agents of progressing civilization and by appealing to Romantic feelings by dramatizing events.

Paired with Michaud’s words were illustrations by Gustave Doré. The image below is an example.


Illustration by Gustave Doré in Michaud’s Histoire des croisades

As you can see in the image, the cross is illuminated in in the center and surrounded by a sea of darkness. The lighting here is clearly used to show the good and bad, or French and Muslim respectively, sides of the Crusades. Looking more closely at the people in the image, it is clear who the French are due to his representations of them in heroic, strong poses. Contrasted to the Muslims, the French look fierce and able. All of Doré’s illustrations similarly “underscored the heroism, nobility, and piety of the crusaders and the perfidy of the Muslims,” as seen in the above image. Doré’s illustrations helped popularize Michaud’s version of history by giving his arguments visual enhancement that people could remember after reading.

Given that the Romantic period was so steeped in artistic and aesthetic feelings, it is important to consider figures from other genres. Beyond intellectuals, literary figures similarly provided romantic descriptions of the Middle Ages and the Crusades. Sir Walter Scott’s Tales of the Crusaders, for example, were very popular and provided favorable representations of the crusaders. Thomas Rowley, a famous poet during the Romantic period, classified the Crusades as “a holy war, purifying the Holy Land.” Kenelm Digby, a converted Catholic philosopher, similarly saw the crusades as a pious endeavor. (Constable, 8) The above literary figures are just a few examples of the way the Crusades were talked or written about.

Another example of artistic representations of the Crusades during the Romantic period can be found in the Salle des Croisades, a series of rooms at Versailles dedicated to commemorating the Crusades. Founded by King Louis Philippe, the rooms were meant to celebrate “the glories of France.” (Riley-Smith, 301). The rooms are well timed with the French’s occupations in the Middle East. For example, their Algeria campaign in 1830 is compared to Louis IX’s conquest of Tunis in 1270. (Riley-Smith, 301) Heroes of the crusades like Bohemond and Richard the Lionheart are on display, glorifying their conquests. Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, only battle victories are depicted in the rooms. The rooms, therefore, should not be looked at as accurate depictions of the events of the Crusades. The Battle of Hattin, one of the biggest and most important defeats of the crusaders, for example, is not present. Instead, the room is full of lionized images of heroes and battles in which the Europeans were successful.


The Siege of Jerusalem, Émile Signol

The above image is one of the paintings that can be found in the rooms. It depicts the siege of Jerusalem in 1099. You can see in the painting that the crusaders, with crosses on their armor, are victorious, with outstretched arms. They are seen celebrating over the dead bodies of their Muslim opponents. This image is one of many examples of the kinds of triumphant and positive artworks representing the Crusades in the Salle des croisades at Versailles.


Ceiling paneling in Salle des croisades at Versailles

The above image is of ceiling paneling in one of the rooms. The signs of the Templars and the Hospitallers are present, a clear call back to the military orders that were so well respected. The paintings in the rooms are distinctly positive. They help represent more clearly the overtly optimistic feelings about the Crusades during the Romantic period. The rooms were created in order to be a public space, so the way that they are presented is important in understanding the way people felt about the Crusades during the Romantic period.

Given both scholarly and artistic pursuits during the Romantic period, it is clear that the Crusades were thought of fondly. The shift away from Enlightenment thinking provided people with nostalgia for the past and, with it, a desire to unite as nations. The writers, scholars, and artists during the Romantic period provided people with positive feelings about the Crusades. These elements combined allowed for the perception of the Crusades to be that they were not just for Europe, but also for the world.

Crusades, Colonialism, and the ‘Civilizing Mission’

In the mid-19th century, a school of crusade scholarship emerged, primarily in Germany, which made a concerted attempt to place the inherited, romanticized vision of the crusades—as exemplified in the Salles des Croisades at Versailles—on a more intellectually-stable platform. Sources of dubious authenticity, like the accounts of William of Tyre were thrown out and discredited. On top of that, French accounts which were thought to rely too much on “religiosity” were cast aside in favor of a self-consciously austere—and supposedly more authentic—account of the crusades. (Tyerman 132)

As this discourse unfolded in the nineteenth century, historiography would become a vehicle for reclaiming the crusades, and the people who led them, as objects of a national pride divorced from religious undertones. (Constable 10) For example, German historians were careful to fit Frederick II, the excommunicate Emperor of the Fourth Crusade, into the embodiment of the anti-clerical and authoritarian leadership then being promoted in the Reich. (135)

But as much as the evolving perception of the crusades served purely nationalistic motives, the most profound shift that occurred in crusader scholarship was the linking of these religious wars to what Europeans increasingly saw as their ‘civilizing mission’. In 1841, the German historian Heinrich Von Sybel described the crusades as “an agitation favorable to liberty and progress…[that] gradually carried along the entire hemisphere in its course.” (Tyerman 135). Such an interpretation of the crusades only grew in legitimacy as time went on. By the 1880’s, the belief that the crusades constituted a violent but necessary impetus towards ‘cultural development’, was widely seen as axiomatic. Far from the futile, sacrilegious endeavor imagined by Enlightenment historians, the crusades had come to be seen as the dawn of a western identity and a direct precursor to the rise of European civilization.

‘Richard the Lionheart at Crusade’, illustration from “A History of England” by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling, in whose book this triumphant image appears, was the author of “The White Man’s Burden” and a major proponent of British imperialism.

‘Richard the Lionheart at Crusade’, illustration from “A History of England” by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling, in whose book this triumphant image appears, was the author of “The White Man’s Burden” and a major proponent of British imperialism.

Unsurprisingly, the growth of the view of the crusades as a stimulant to civilizational development coincided with the rapid expansion of European imperialism. (Constable 11) Just as the paintings of the Salles des Croisades were aimed to complement and aggrandize France’s contemporary conquest of Algeria in the 1830’s, the historians of nations swept up in fervor for imperialist expansion found themselves reexamining—and to some extent, inventing—the mission and legacy of crusades. (Madden 240) For example, following World War I, as the French took control of Syria, crusade histories emerged which stressed the supposed benevolence of Frankish rule in the region, and emphasized instances of cultural exchange and the salutary effects of Frankish culture on that of the native Syrians. (Tyerman 150)

Map depicting the partitioning of the Middle East following WWI and the Treaty of Versailles. Many in Britain and France saw this as the completion of a righteous colonial mission begun during the crusades.

Map depicting the partitioning of the Middle East following WWI and the Treaty of Versailles. Many in Britain and France saw this as the completion of a righteous colonial mission begun during the crusades.

This ‘French Model’—which hailed crusades as a “dress-rehearsal” of sorts for the civilizing influence of later European imperialism—would find expression in multiple iterations, varying by nationality and timeline but conceptually unified. The resultant ‘positive colonial interpretation’ became the standard in crusade scholarship for the early twentieth century. This model persisted throughout much of the western world, but began to fall apart following the collapse of European empires in the years surrounding World War II. This rapid disintegration prompted a more sober reevaluation of the rosy parallels between crusades and imperialism, as well as the entire notion of a colonial mission. (156)

Nazi-Occupied France Propaganda Poster, utilizing a ‘Crusader’ as a protagonist not in a religious war, but in a campaign against the supposed barbarism of Bolshevism in Europe.

Nazi-Occupied France Propaganda Poster, utilizing a ‘Crusader’ as a protagonist not in a religious war, but in a campaign against the supposed barbarism of Bolshevism in Europe.

As much as these momentous global events, a changing intellectual landscape helped to discredit extant scholarship on the crusades. Cahen, a Marxist historian, dealt a significant blow to the ‘positive colonial interpretation’ simply by examining indigenous sources written in Arabic, which generations of previous western scholars had chosen to ignore altogether. (164) Working in this more comprehensive vein, historians inverted the previous pro-colonial model, arguing that rather than beacons of civilizing influence, the Latin states in the Middle East had little impact on the lives or customs of indigenous peoples, whose populations were far too great for the European administrators to effectively govern, let alone ‘civilize’. Moreover, Joshua Prawer later argued, with such a tenuous hold on power, the primary social organization of the Latin kingdoms would likely have been one of brutish religious apartheid, rather than enlightened cultural exchange. (171)

The relationship between crusader historiography and the colonial enterprise in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is that of the attempt to gradually replace the role of religion in the crusades with that of a ‘culture’ and civilization, the concepts of which were rooted in contemporary, rather than medieval European attitudes. By draining religion from the discourse, an increasingly secular West could still look back on the crusades as a positive aspect of their legacy, as wars motivated by progressive mentality and social good rather than fear and religious fervor. Ultimately, it took modern wars of incredible violence, the shattering of Europe’s old empires, and a fundamental overhaul of the analysis and selection of crusades sources to dislodge this nostalgic and self-congratulatory interpretation.

The Crusades in the Modern Era



Dr. Steven Runciman

Runciman’s Effect on the Scholarly Landscape

Of all the early 20th century scholars who sought to debase this nationalist narrative, perhaps none were more influencial than Steve Runciman. In his exhaustive three-volume series, A History of the Crusades, Steven Runciman sketches a compelling vision of the Crusades as “a barbarian invasion” of not only the Muslim but also the Byzantine world. Runciman’s pairing of scholarly breadth–his work draws on an unprecedented variety of primary sources from Byzantine and Islamic accounts as well as those of contemporaneous Europeans–with evocative chronological narrativization gave his account of the Crusades the force to fundamentally change the existing dialogue surrounding both history and public perception of the Crusades.

Since its first publication in 1954 Runciman’s History of the Crusades has become central to the modern historical understanding of the Crusades. His scholarship largely negates attempts by western idealists to re-establish the justifiability and glory of the Crusades. Contemporary historians do not deny Runciman any of the credit for this axiomatic shift in scholarly understanding of the Crusades: Edward Peters writes that Runciman’s work “instantly became the most widely known and respected single-author survey of the subject in English” and Thomas Madden, asserts “…it is no exaggeration to say that Runciman single-handedly crafted the current popular concept of the crusades.” However, critics of his work complain that Runciman, as a principally Byzantinist scholar, was too reliant on and partial to the Byzantine perspective in his understanding of the Crusades to be objective; David Hay writes in a 2006 review of Runciman’s The First Crusade that,

At times, [Runciman] identifies rather too closely with his subjects. He is ready to excuse Emperor Alexius for his failure to reinforce the crusaders at Antioch (pp. 148-149), as well as for his opportunism in negotiating with the Fatimids even as the crusaders were marching out to fight them (pp. 175). Runciman seems to feel that the emperor’s only obligation was to his Orthodox subjects.


Though Hay and other contemporary historians now assert that “Runciman’s work is an enjoyable romp, but one that has now largely been superseded,” his depiction of the crusades is still central to modern popular and scholarly understandings.

Dr. Riley-Smith

Post-Runciman Scholars: Correcting the Myths of the Crusades.

In the wake of Runciman’s groundbreaking publication, projects in Crusade scholarship moved away from outlining a central explanatory narrative and turned instead towards analyzing the veracity of specific ‘truths’ previously accepted by historians and the public alike. However, this shift in focus from the macro-narrative to the granular has yielded surprising and significant findings that challenge today’s popular perceptions of the campaigns. For example, Dr. Jonathan Riley-Smith, by creating and analyzing databases of individuals who took up the cross, discredited the notion that the landless second-sons of European nobility made up the majority of the knightly force that took up the cross. Christopher Tyerman, another eminent scholar on the Crusades, has worked to debunk the notion that the Crusades were a profitable endeavor for the crusader lords involved.

Though, thanks to the efforts of modern scholars, many myths have been exorcised from the canon of crusade scholarship, public perceptions have not been similarly revised to reflect this new scholarship. Tyerman mourned in his The Crusades: A Very Short Introduction that “Most of what passes in public as knowledge of the Crusades is either misleading or false” while Thomas Madden places the blame for this lag in public perception on both historians and ‘modern elites’:


the fruits of decades of scholarship have been slow to enter the popular mind. In part this is the fault of professional historians, who tend to publish studies that, by necessity, are technical and therefore not easily accessible outside of the academy. But it is also due to a clear reluctance among modern elites to let go of Runciman’s vision of the Crusades. (Madden)


Former Senator Rick Santorum (C) addresses supporters at a rally to officially announce his candidacy for President of the United States on the steps of the courthouse in Somerset, Pennsylvania June 6, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Cohn

Former Senator Rick Santorum (C) addresses supporters at a rally to officially announce his candidacy for President of the United States on the steps of the courthouse in Somerset, Pennsylvania June 6, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Cohn

Crusade Historians and Popular Rhetoric

After reading Madden’s quote, one might wonder why modern elites seem so intransigent in letting go of Runciman’s vision of the Crusades in the first place. Setting aside an appeal to the inherent virtues of Runciman’s scholarship, we can answer this question by examining the primary catalyst for the modern popularity of the Crusades as a field of inquiry. Over the past 50 years, popular interest in the Crusades has risen and fallen according to the extent to which the Western world has been involved with the Middle-East. Thus, in the wake of the September 11th attacks, there arose a dramatic resurgence of interest in the history of the Crusades. But this newfound fascination for the Crusades has made it more difficult for professional historians to put an end to those myths that serve to justify a vision of the Crusades that lends itself particularly to the interests of modern political factions. Anti-imperialist critics of America’s involvement in the Middle-East throughout the 2000’s have drawn false allusions to the Crusades as a series of proto-imperialist European ventures while those seeking to ascribe a materialist motive to the actions of the Bush administration would be more likely to style the crusades as campaign of plunder and profit. For example, the phrase “the Tenth Crusade” was coined by journalist Alexander Cockburn to describe the “looming disaster” of the Iraq War. On the other side of the aisle, arch-conservative voices have used Crusade rhetoric to reinforce their own worldviews. In a 2011 rally in South Carolina, Rick Santorum is quoted saying,


The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical. And that is what the perception is by the American left who hates Christendom. They hate Christendom. They hate Western civilization at the core. That’s the problem. (Gabriele)


Matthew Gabriele, a prominent Crusades historian, soundly rebuffed Santorum, saying “The kind of argument Santorum is making is (regretfully) not new, even while it’s arrogant, simplistic, and expressly political.” As politicians continue to use the history of the Crusades as little more than a rhetorical device, academics have increasingly find themselves with the expertise but no bully pulpit from which to firmly dispel known falsehoods regarding the historical Crusades.

Though historians have had trouble quelling the promulgation of false narratives in the West, it has been even harder to dispel the misperceptions of the Crusades that have, due in no small part to the efforts of Islamic extremists, arisen throughout the Islamic world. In  November of 2001, Osama Bin Laden claimed that America’s intervention in Afghanistan was a “link to a long series of crusader wars against the Islamic world.” More generally, Bin Laden argued in this broadcast that “These battles cannot be viewed in any case whatsoever as isolated battles, but rather, as part of a chain of the long, fierce, and ugly crusader war.” (Bin Laden) Clearly, correcting this perception of the crusades is paramount to


Dr. Steve Weidenkopf

The Fragmentation and Future of Crusade Scholarship

Though the Crusades have continued to gain prominence as an area of study, the past twenty years has also seen fragmentation of Crusader scholarship into several different schools of thought. This lack of integration across the subfields of Crusades scholarship may partly be a product of the Post-Runciman scholastic program: finding and dispelling myths pertaining to the Crusades. Just one example can be found in Joshua Prawer (1917-1990)–an Israeli Historian whose work focuses on using the successes and failures crusader state-building institutions–has influenced not only later historians such as Ronnie Ellenblum and Benjamin Kedar but also a slew of ‘post-Zionist’ Israeli policymakers. (Jackson)

In the United States, there exists an intellectual divide concerning the question of crusader motivation. Today the eminent historian Thomas Madden, following from the ‘revisionist’ tradition of Riley-Smith that styles Islamdom rather than Christendom as the “colossus of the middle ages,” boldly asserts that the Crusades should be seen as a series of defensive campaigns. Taking this tradition one step further, fellow Catholic and Crusades historian Steve Weidenkopf maintains that the Crusaders were acting not only defensively but  indeed “gloriously” in virtue of their genuinely held religious convictions. Though this apologist tradition has both a popular as well as a scholarly following within Catholic circles, the trade-off from studying the Crusades from a Catholicist point of view may well be a decreased desire on the part of younger Western historians to find intellectual common ground with their Middle-Eastern counterparts.

On the other side of this divide, the intellectual successors of Christopher Tyerman have endeavored to map out more fully the moral landscape of crusading by engaging with historical events from the viewpoints of its participants. Scholars of tradition must therefore walk a fine line between excusing the Crusaders of committing atrocities and putting these atrocities in context of the accepted morality of the period. Yet nonetheless, “Tyerman does not excuse the Crusaders’ slaughter or exonerate Christendom for its sanctification of it; neither does he vilify medieval Christianity.”

While scholastic fragmentation can yield very divergent accounts and conclusions, it can also lead to a much richer and more multifaceted view of the subject matter. And so perhaps it would be wrong to ask historians for a definitive interpretation of the Crusades. Indeed, William Urban writes that such an interpretation is but “a mirage that will disappear before we can reach it.” However, he goes on to qualify:


But the more we understand how our present interpretations have come about, the more we will have the context in which to do our own thinking. The more this makes the past relevant to the present, the more likely students are to remember what we say and to think about it. We encourage our students to venture beyond the memorization of facts and concepts. We should do the same by periodically rethinking the meaning of critical moments in the past. (Urban)

Thus, through the thorough study of the Crusades can we yet come to find new truths about the conflicts we face today and tomorrow. Critical moments will necessitate critical analysis and ignorance of our shared history is not an option.






Works Cited

Gustave Doré illustration:

Salle des croisades ceiling:

Salle des croisades “Siege of Jerusalem” by Émile Signol:

Riley-Smith, Jonathan. Crusades: A History. London; New York: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Tyerman, Christopher. The Debate on the Crusades. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011.

Andrea, Alfred J. and Andrew Holt. Seven Myths of the Crusades. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2015.

Lecture Notes 5/13/16.

Spurr, John. 2006. The post-Reformation: religion, politics and society in Britain, 1603-1714. Harlow, England: Pearson Longman.

Miller, John. 1986. Religion in the popular prints, 1600-1832. Cambridge, England: Chadwyck-Healey.

Shuger, Debora K. 1990. Habits of thought in the English Renaissance: religion, politics, and the dominant culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Voltaire. 1759. An essay on universal history: The manners, and spirit of nations, from the reign of charlemaign to the age of lewis XIV. written in french by M. de voltaire. translated into english, with additional notes and chronological tables, by mr. nugent. The third, revis, and considerably improv by the author.. ed. Dublin: printed for S. Cotter.

Bin Laden, Osama. Bin Laden Rails against Crusaders and UN. BBC News. 2001. Accessed May 29, 2016.

Blosser, Philip. New Oxford Review. New Oxford Review. November 2007. Accessed May 27, 2016.

Cockburn, Alexander. The Tenth Crusade. Counterpunch. 2002. Accessed May 27, 2016.

Hay, David. Superbly Written, but Showing Its Age. Humanities and Social Sciences Online. Accessed May 27, 2016.

Jackson, Peter. The English Historical Review 97, no. 383 (1982): 346-50.

Kast, Sheilah. Interview: Christopher Tyerman Discusses His Book on the Crusades. NPR. Accessed May 27, 2016.

Lynch, Andrew. Orate Fratres. Debunking Crusade Myths. Accessed May 24, 2016.

Madden, Thomas. Crusade Myths. Ignatius Incite. Accessed May 27, 2016.

Gabriele, Matthew. Rick Santorum’s Crusade: Nostalgia, Medieval & Modern. Modern Medieval. February 23, 2011. Accessed May 27, 2016.

Madden, Thomas F. (2005). The New Concise History of the Crusades. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 216.

Urban, William. Rethinking the Crusades. Perspectives on History, October 1998.


ISIS and the Crusades


What is ISIS?

ISIS, or the Islamic State, is a militant Islamist group that follows a Salafi-Wahabi doctrine of Sunni Islam. Founded in 2006, as an off-shoot of the al-Qaeda Iraq branch, by Jordanian jihadi fighter Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi the group holds two main objectives: purify Islam under a single uncompromising style of worship (which requires the complete elimination of Shia Islam), and establish a caliphate (an Islamic religious state) that would rule over all Muslims. Their behavior in the region works towards these ends. They regularly attack Shia holy sites, including a large Shia mosque in Kuwait in 2015. As their caliphate requires large amounts of land ISIS is aggressively territorial, claiming provinces in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. The caliphate also has religious significance for they believe it precipitates the apocalypse where God will come to judge all humanity. ISIS often uses the idea of crusading as a cultural tool in its rhetoric giving us unique insight into the group’s ideology and their understandings of what history is, and can do.

WATCH: ISIS Releases New ‘No Respite’ Propaganda Video in English


Tracking the Intellectual Lineage of the Islamic State

crusade 1

ISIS can trace its intellectual lineage to the rise of Islamism and jihadi-Salafism. As ISIS was founded in 2006 from an Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda’s ideological legacy features prominently in current ISIS thought. Al-Qaeda clearly draws from the teachings of ibn Taymiyyah (born 1269 CE), a 13th century Islamic scholar who advocated for the purification of the Islamic faith, especially from idolatry. His, and his student’s, writings would become the core of Salafi theology, a theology that advocates a return to the original ways of Islam. He argued that “clerics had distorted the truth by abandoning an exclusive focus on the Quran and hadith…By forsaking the scriptural core of the religion and tolerating beliefs and practices that the earliest generation of Muslims, the salaf, tried to eliminate, religious leaders had lost touch with the essentials of the faith”. However, Taymiyyah opposed an uncritical adherence to Muslim scholarship and did not advocate outright rebellion. Taymiyyah was also the first to pair salafism with jihad, or holy war, insisting that “to wage jihad was the obligation of the legitimate political authority, who was enjoined to lead his army on this holy task at least once a year”. Another major thinker that al-Qaeda, and ISIS, extract inspiration from is 18th century cleric Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (b. 1703). al-Wahhab was a follower of Taymiyyah and took the idea of purification to an extreme attacking Shia populations in Saudi Arabia. He believed that Islam must be purged of the “idolatrous” Shia Islam if Saudi Arabia was ever to prosper (reminiscent of the internal Crusade against the Cathars in 13th century France). It was from these beliefs that he founded Wahhabism, and it is from these ideas that ISIS gets its anti-Shia, a branch of Islam that ISIS and salafi adherents believe venerate Mohammad’s family too much, sentiment. al-Wahhab believed in returning to the old ways of Islam, but took it a step further and claimed that “delivering a legal ruling on the basis of something other than the Quran and hadith was apostasy”.

With the rise of colonialism in the Middle East in the 19th century we see a renewed interest in the crusades in the Middle East. It was not until 1899 that an arab language historical account of the crusades was created. Ali al-Hariri wrote a history of the Crusades when the Ottoman Empire was in a deep crisis, and western imperial forces were considered inevitable. With his account we begin to see the conflation of modern imperialist with their crusading predecessors. Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II (1908) spoke of Western incursions as a “new crusade”. This tying of 19th century colonialism, European Crusading and Salafism began to appear in scholarly religious discussions. Rashid Rida (1866-1935), a early Islamic reformer, believed that “Only a salafiyya Islam, an Islam purged of impurities and Western influences, could save Muslims from subordination to the colonial powers”

crusade 3From 20th century theology, ISIS is heavily informed by the Muslim Brotherhood movement founded in Egypt in 1928. The movement was exclusively Sunni with an emphasis on the reestablishment of the caliphate. Egyptian thinker Sayyid Qutb (active in the 1950’s-60’s), joined the Muslim Brotherhood in 1952, and his seminal piece Milestones is a major text that ISIS draws a lot of its ideology. He believed that social and political forces were man made and that was why they failed. That man’s reliance on his own political institutions resulted in ignorance of “divine guidance”, and that the only legitimate laws are God’s laws (harkening back to al-Wahhab’s theology).  It was only through this purified form of Islam that Muslims would gain personal freedom and world leadership again. He first turned to internal purification of Nasser’s Egypt. Internal purification comes as running theme in salafi scholarship, and in religiously motivated political action (including the medieval Crusader and Saladin’s jihad). He argued, “Muslims must answer to God alone. Human government, even one that paid lip service to Islam, was apostate; the very presumption that there could be human rule over Muslims implied a denial of God’s authority over mankind and was therefore heretical”. This long history of salafi thought explains the Islamic State’s hatred of Shia Muslims, and strong desire for a physical caliphate. They are drawing on a long tradition that calls for purification of the faith, and political domination in the region.


What Work is Crusade Memory Doing in ISIS’s Rhetoric Today?

For the Islamic State, the term “Crusade” is instrumental in describing the West and its actions.  References to crusades and crusaders can be found repeatedly and frequently in statements, propaganda publications, and videos released by thDabiq covere group, as well as references to ‘Rome’ and such crusade icons.  In their rhetoric, the Crusades invoke a defensive war of Islam against an invader from the West, and  crusaders are those come to kill Muslims and rob them of their land and autonomy.

According to ISIS, the world today is at war, and there are only two sides.  As their propaganda magazine Dabiq explains, referencing the former U.S. president, “Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.’ I.e. either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.” (Dabiq)  Much as the historic leaders Zengi, Nur ed-din, and Saladin during the original Crusades, they use attack by the West as a rallying point to unite all Muslims for a great religious war.  The cultural memories they intend to call up are of uniting in Jihad against those infidels who would take Islamic lands and attack Islamic peoples, and of repulsing them as the Muslim forces did against Crusaders at Edessa, then Jerusalem, and finally Acre.

In the United States, the word crusade is used generally to refer to a determined campaign, such as President Bush did when speaking after the September 11th attacks.  Its use by ISIS, however, is very deliberate and precise, meant to draw direct comparisons between the United States and its Western allies, and particularly their militaries, and the crusaders of medieval times.  In many cases, it is even taken beyond this, to the point where crusader is synonymous with the ultimate enemies of Islam, who will fight the faithful at the end of the world.

Every reference to Westerners by the Islamic State is prefaced with this title:“Crusader in chief” Barack Obama, “the Crusader General Dempsey”, “the Jewish Crusader” Henry Kissinger, airstrikes conducted by “crusader aircraft” and so on (Dabiq, Theissen).  They relentlessly keep this image in the minds of anyone reading or listening to them, using the modern image of the Crusades in the Middle East as a defense of land and religion, making certain the Westerners are always seen as invaders and religious enemies by their audience.  They refer to crusader armies and crusader media, and even American citizens who remain at home are “crusader ‘civilians’” through association with the government they elected and obey, making them implicitly guilty for the conflict in the Middle East and legitimizing them as targets.

Another important aspect of the crusade comparison is the knowledge that the original crusades failed, that Muslim forces in the end recovered the lands the crusaders had taken and forced them out of the Middle East.  ISIS not only justifies their battle through it, but declares that Western attacks against Muslims “will be broken and defeated, just as all [their] previous campaigns were broken and defeated,” and that such is inevitable with Allah on their side (Dabiq).  They intend to this time not only repel the crusaders’ invasion, but respond in kind: “this time we will raid you thereafter, and you will never raid us.  We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the promise of Allah” (Dabiq).  The seat of power from which the original crusades were launched, Rome is used symbolically as the capital of the West.  In a propaganda video, they depict its conquest as their ultimate success, with a caravan of armed vehicles advancing towards the Coliseum.

The incessant invocations of the crusades by ISIS is a move calculated to draw upon particular memories of the medieval crusades in the Middle East.  It paints Americans and other Western powers as unwelcome foreign aggressors who only want to seize land and power from the people of the region, influencing neutrally-inclined Middle-Easterners against them.  It declares those powers enemies to all of the Islamic religion who must be opposed in jihad, further legitimizing its battle and its counterattacks on that infidel enemy.  Finally, it dooms the efforts of the West to be defeated, just as the original crusades were, by Muslim forces.


Crusading Ideology Extends Beyond Simple Rhetoric

The work that Crusading memory does in the context of ISIS exceeds simple rhetoric though. It also informs policy decisions, the nature of recruitment, and even the general strategy the organization has chosen. As Gaeme Wood puts it “ISIS has hijacked secular sources of power and grievance, and was using them for religious ends”. This clearly is reminiscent of the Crusades and the framing of the conflict as religious goes beyond a label and proves to be the definitive aspect of ISIS’s movement.

In terms of policy, the religious nature of the conflict could not be more clear – and thus is highly reminiscent of the Crusades themselves. ISIS’s focus on the city of Dabiq has resulted in a single-minded pursuit of the city and the surrounding territory despite the clear absence of any strategic value the city has. The repeated labelling of western coalition forces (especially the US) as crusaders and referring to them as “Rome” is not a mere label but a declaration of intent. ISIS’s propaganda piece, Dabiq, makes it clear: “We will conquer you Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the permission of Allah” (Dabiq 4). The repeated use of divine will to justify conflict is clearly reminiscent of the crusades, but ISIS goes further still – informed largely by their apocalyptic vision of the world. The brutality of warfare and willingness to commit murder and even enslave people is borne not only from the justification of doing Allah’s work but also in the knowledge that they are fighting towards the end of days.

Framing this conflict as a religious war has also dictated the nature of ISIS’s enemies. While many in the Western world see ISIS as a purely anti-Western organization, it has caused the most chaos and perpetrated most of its violence against Muslims. Choice of victims is determined – to a great extent – by the nature of their religious views. Al- Baghdadi routinely conducts mass executions of Muslim “apsotates” but allows many non-resisting Christians to live as long as they pay jizya (a practice with significant precedent and is actually reminiscent of Saladin’s own approach during the Crusades). Indeed, the political advantages on remaining silent or tolerating certain sects of practices of Islam are dismissed by ISIS because the political advantages offered defeat the religious purpose and contradicts the zealotry that is its driving force.

Further defining this conflict as religious, instead of a simply secular grab for power, is the global nature of recruitment and attacks. Both are not contained torecruitment the region that ISIS is said to administer. Global outreach indicates not only ISIS’s efforts to reach out via all means of communication, but also the broad religious appeal that it calls for. Its central platform of authority is religious – The Caliphate represents a promise of a resurgent Islam, which is what it is selling it its recruitment efforts. The global influx of fighters to Syria is not dissimilar to what was seen in the rallying cries of the Crusades themselves.

Accordingly, the lethal attacks and bombings carried out over the course of ISIS’s inception have ranged well beyond the range of the Levant – including parts of Northern and Central Africa. Any secularly and politically driven terrorist group would not Isis attacksengage these many enemies for fear of inciting global retaliation but ISIS’s religious core not only justifies such action, but demands it.

There is no question that there are political and geographic aims that ISIS has. The territory under their caliphate’s control is expanding for that very reason. However, the intent behind the expansion does not seem motivated by a desire for regional ownership, but rather by a sense of trying to secure statehood in which Islam – as ISIS sees it – reigns supreme. However, unlike Al-Qaeda, ISIS holds swaths of land, collects taxes, regulates prices, operates courts, and technically administers services. It would be far easier to decentralize authority, operate within a cell structure, and not have a fixed base of operations to make counter-insurgency more difficult and get territory back that way. However, the fact that this is not happening here is indicative of a movement driven by faith first, and is furthered by the political realities of the caliphate – hearkening back to the Crusades again.


Is ISIS a Religious Organization?

To clarify, ISIS is hardly what anyone would call a proponent of typical Islam and there is a certain hesitation when applying the label of “radical Islam” to ISIS for fear of legitimizing any of their action (Recently the Prince of Jordan made that very case against the US’s rhetoric). That said, it is tough to dispute the fact that ISIS is, at its core, a jihadi-Salafi organization with an intention to purify Islam, and do draw on an extensive development of scholarly thought to advance their claims.

Putting legitimacy aside, it is hard not to see ISIS as an organization that is not religiously motivated and modeled. From the organizational structure that emulates a caliphate, to its overall world view, ISIS is fundamentally religious. There is a strong tendency to dismiss ISIS as – as Obama put it – the “JV Al-Qaeda” but the reality is that ISIS is a group that is more than just a thrill seeking organization just in it to kill individuals. There is no question that so much of ISIS propaganda is religiously fueled, but more importantly their end-goal revolves around a religiously driven apocalyptic expectation and prophetic callings. In this sense, ISIS has the same primary goals as the early Crusaders: serve God and eliminate all non-believers – ideals defining their rhetoric and supported by their actions to frightening ends. 

Religioius war



Sources and Additional Readings:

Bunzel, Cole. “From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State.” The Brookings Project On U.s. Relations With The Islamic World 1.19 (2015): 1-48. The Brookings Institute, Mar. 2015. Web. 18 May 2016.

“ISIS Releases New ‘no Respite’ Propaganda Video in English.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, n.d. Web. 30 May 2016.

Rogan, Eugene L. The Arabs: A History. New York: Basic, 2009. Print.

Simon, Steven, and Daniel Benjamin. Age of Sacred Terror: Radical Islam’s War Against America. N.p.: Random House, 2003. Print.

Theissen, Marc. To the Terrorists, Obama is ‘Crusader in Chief’. The Washington Post, 9 Feb. 2015.  Web. 30 May 2016.

Dabiq Issue 4: The Failed Crusade. 2015.  Web. 30 May 2016.

Watch Daesh Fantastic Dream, End of World by Conquering Crusaders in Rome. Alalam News Network. 12 Dec. 2015. Web. 30 May 2016.

The Temple Mount

Aerial shot of the modern day Temple Mount with the golden Dome of the Rock at its center

The Temple Mount is a holy site in the eastern section of the old city of Jerusalem. Its religious importance stems back to the construction of Solomon’s Temple in the Old Testament and spans Christian and Islamic tradition as well. The Crusader occupation greatly changed the importance of Temple Mount in the Christian tradition.

Map of the Temple Mount, with all significant religious sites marked

Significance in Judaism

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is considered to be Mount Moriah of Jewish tradition. This is the place where Abraham, the first prophet of Judaism, attempted to sacrifice his son Isaac, thereby sanctifying the location. In the 10th century BCE, King David united the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and conquered Jerusalem. According to the I Chronicles, David attempted to build a temple on Mount Moriah to house the Ark of the Covenant, a vessel built to carry the ten commandments and thought to house the spirit of God. However, God told David not to build a Temple as David had shed blood as a conqueror, and that David’s son, Solomon, should build the Temple instead. Once Solomon became King, he built the Jewish First Temple, or Solomon’s Temple, on Mount Moriah.

The Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, and the Jews were exiled. Later, in the latter part of the 500s BCE the Persian ruler Cyrus issued an edict granting the Jews the right to rebuild the Temple, and so the Second Temple was built. In the Second Temple was a room called the Holy of Holies which was said to house the spirit of God. The Jewish high priest would enter the room once a year on Yom Kippur to pray and repent for the Jewish people. In the mid second century BCE, the Seleucids raised a pagan altar in the temple and killed 40,000 Jews: a set of events dubbed the “abomination of desolation” in Daniel 11:31. The Maccabean revolt later restored the temple.

The second temple was destroyed in the first century CE by the Roman general and future emperor Vespasian Flavius and his son Titus in response to the first Jewish rebellion. The quelling of the revolt resulted in a mass enslavement and diaspora of the Jewish people. The second Jewish revolt in the 2nd century CE under the emperor Hadrian resulted in the destruction of the Jewish state completely (it became part of the new Roman province Syria Palaestina), and a temple to Jupiter was erected upon the Temple Mount in place of the first Temple. Judaism attests that the building of the third Temple will signal the coming of the Messiah.

The Destruction of the Second Temple, as prophesied by Jesus, was seen by the Byzantine Christians as the victory of their new religion over Judaism

Byzantine Christianity 

After Emperor Constantine I declared Christianity to be the Empire’s official religion in 313 CE, Hadrian’s temple to Jupiter was demolished following the Council of Nicea in 325 CE. Beginning with Constantine’s reign, the focus of Christian tradition in Jerusalem shifted from the Temple Mount to the Holy Sepulchre, which was the location of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. By this time, the buildings on the Mount were in ruins due to the thwarted Jewish attempts at rebuilding the Temple during Roman rule. The destruction of the Temple, prophesied by Jesus’s “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands” (Mark 14:58), in addition to the expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem, was seen by the Byzantine Christians as proof of Christianity’s victory over Judaism. In the centuries preceding the conquest of Jerusalem first by the Sassanids, then by the Rashidun, the Temple Mount had been completely overlooked in the Christian religious topography of Jerusalem in favor of the Holy Sepulchre.

Significance in Islam

When Jerusalem passed into Muslim hands in the 7th century, so did the area of the Temple Mount, which the Muslims called Haram al-Sharif. At its center was the es-Sakhra, ”The Foundation Stone”—a rock outcropping where, according to early Muslim tradition, King David prayed to God and King Solomon had built the Temple. Later Muslim tradition identified es-Sakhra as the place from which the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven after his Night Journey from Mecca in chapter 17 of the Qur’an. During the Night Journey, Prophet Muhammad travels to Al-Aqsa Mosque, or the Farthest Mosque, to make this ascension to Heaven, where he spoke with earlier prophets such as Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus, and ultimately God.

In early Islamic tradition, Al-Aqsa Mosque referred to the entirety of the Temple Mount. The entire Temple Mount has since come to be referred to as Haram al-Sharif, or “the Noble Sanctuary,” and Al-Aqsa Mosque now refers to the small prayer house built by the Rashidun Caliph Umar, which was rebuilt and expanded by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik and his son al-Walid in 705 CE.

It is out of this ambiguity of defining “al-Masjid al-Aqsa” that interpretative differences arise where on the Temple Mount the Prophet Muhammad ascended on the Night Journey. A mosque (masjid) means a place of prostration, and as open mosques demonstrate, do not necessarily mean a building. The current Al-Aqsa Mosque is built upon the spot the Rashidun and Umayyads believed Muhammad ascended, whereas other scholars believe Muhammad ascended upon the Foundation Stone, now housed inside the Dome of the Rock. Regardless, the importance of the Night Journey in Islamic tradition and its setting within the Temple Mount compound has made Jerusalem the third holiest city in Islam, following Mecca and Medina.

Depiction of the Night Journey of the Prophet Muhammad in which he journeyed to Jerusalem on a mythical steed named Buraq, to meet with the other prophets, visit heaven and finally see God.

The Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik built the octagonal Dome of the Rock over the es-Sakhra between 687 and 691 CE. It was built employing Byzantine architects, and thus contained many Byzantine design elements, such as the octagonal plan, the dome of wood, and the mosaics decorating the structure. It is disputed whether the Dome of the Rock was ever a mosque or if it is a ciborium, or vessel, erected over the holy site.

Also within the Temple Mount compound is the Dome of the Chain. An Islamic prayer house built by the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik, it is the location of Judgement Day in Islamic tradition. It is here that the Final Judgement will take place and that a chain will stop the sinful while letting the just pass through.

Map of the Old City of Jerusalem

During the Crusader Occupation

When Jerusalem fell to the Crusaders on July 15, 1099, gone was the rubble that had dominated the Temple Mount during Byzantine rule, and instead three Muslim buildings now stood upon it—the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Chain, surrounded by gates leading into the area.

Dome of the Rock with the smaller Dome of the Chain in front of it. The gilded dome and the Turkish tiles on the outside of the Dome of the Rock were added by the Ottoman sultan Suleiman I in the 16th century.

In early Crusader tradition, the Dome of the Rock housed the place in which the Ark of the Covenant was sealed, and it was referred to as “Templum Domini”, or Temple of the Lord. However, in later years of Crusader rule, the Templum Domini shifted away from the association with relics and instead became associated with the divine presence itself, the Holy of Holies.

The Dome of the Chain also took on new religious significance for the Crusaders.  During the occupation, the kiosk-like structure east of the Dome of the Rock was consecrated as a chapel of St James the Less (also known as James the Just), the eldest of Jesus’ four brothers. The Crusaders believed the structure to be the tomb of St James and associated it with his martyrdom. The Franks carved an inscription in the chapel marking it as the Saint’s tomb.

The Crusaders attributed several significant biblical events to the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock. For example, they came to believe that the great rock within Templum Domini was also the stone pillow on which Jacob rested when he dreamed of the ladder climbed by God’s angels. This contributed to the divine presence that the Crusaders associated with the Dome of the Rock as when Jacob awoke he said, “truly the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it,” (Genesis 28:16) words that the Crusaders added in a mosaic inscription within the Temple. Also in the Dome of the Rock is a small stone cave the Crusaders called the “sanctuary of the Lord.”  It was thought to be the place where the conception of Saint John the Baptist was announced to his father by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:5-20).  The Crusaders also believed this cave to be the place where Jesus absolved the adulteress (John 8:1-11), and it became a  destination of pilgrimage during Crusader occupation, at which devotees would confess their sins.

The cave within the Dome of the Rock, considered to be “the Sanctuary of the Lord”

After a few decades, in which the Crusader kings of Jerusalem became more established and financially secure, the Dome of the Rock was lavishly endowed to make up for all the treasures the Crusaders had plundered in 1099. In 1115 the restoration of the Templum Domini began. The rock, considered the Holy of Holies, was covered in a marble casing and turned into an altar with a cross. An octagonal iron screen was erected so that it would be impossible to touch and even see anything but the northern part of the rock. This was done in order to prevent people from breaking off pieces of the rock to sell as relics. The outside was covered in mosaics depicting Latin Christian verses, while the inside was also plastered over and decorated with images of the history of the Temple and other inscriptions. Perhaps the most dramatic addition was the golden cross that was hoisted to the top of the Dome, which so greatly offended Muslims that Saladin’s first action upon taking Jerusalem in October of 1187 was ordering its removal.

Al-Aqsa Mosque, believed to be built on top of Solomon’s Temple, served as the royal palace in the first few decades of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Later it was given as a headquarters to the Knights Templar

Likewise, the Al-Aqsa Mosque was also integrated into Latin Christian religious topography. Al-Aqsa Mosque was thought to be built above the ruins of the first Temple of Solomon.  As a result, the Crusaders referred to the building as “Templum Salomonis”, or Solomon’s Temple. The first ruler of the new Kingdom of Jerusalem, Godfrey of Bouillon, took up residence in the building and renovated its interior to make it more similar to a palace, removing all traces of Muslim worship in the process. The lower portion of the building was used to house horses and referred to as “Solomon’s Stables.”  Thus, in the first decades after the First Crusade, the Temple Mount became the administrative center, not just of Jerusalem, but of the entire Crusader Kingdom.

In 1118 King Baldwin II granted the use of part of the building to the newly founded Knights Templar who were sworn to protect pilgrims coming to Jerusalem and provided a stable military presence in the Crusader Kingdoms. The military order derived their name from their use of Solomon’s Temple as a headquarters, calling themselves “The Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon” or the Knights Templar. Joint use of the building lasted until Pope Honorius II officially recognized the Templar as a military order in 1128 and the knights became the primary residents of Al-Aqsa while the Tower of David was converted into the new royal palace. Thus, much of the military authority of the Crusader Kingdom became centered on the Temple Mount.  The vast resources of the Templar allowed the order to make several architectural changes and expansions to Al-Aqsa Mosque throughout this period.  Included in these expansions were a church, a new palace, and several cellars and refectories.  When the city was retaken by Saladin in 1187, many of these additions were destroyed as Al-Aqsa Mosque was returned to its original function.

(Al Jazeera has some amazing 360 tours of Al-Aqsa Mosque.)

The Temple Mount and Crusader Ideology

When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, they immediately took over the buildings on the Temple Mount. The symbolic significance of the location in Christian tradition, which had been abandoned during Byzantine rule in favor of the Holy Sepulchre, was reinstated. The decision to concentrate royal and military authority in the Temple Mount was largely influenced by the small number and impoverished nature of the Crusaders. After trekking across Europe and the Levant for several years, constantly engaged in battles or sieges, the Crusaders lacked the money and the manpower to fully garrison the city or to build new structures for administrative purposes. Many Crusaders had died in battle, while others completed their pilgrimage by praying at the Holy Sepulchre and then went home. Therefore, necessity demanded that the King of Jerusalem take up residence in Al Aqsa, and then share his palace with the Knights Templar, who were a constant military presence in the Crusader Kingdoms and sworn to protect pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. The religious center of the Kingdom, located at the Holy Sepulchre, was thus extended to the Temple Mount, residence of the King and the new military order.

The Byzantine Christians paid more attention to the fulfillment of God’s curse on the Temple Mount and the victory of Christianity over Judaism that was symbolized by the destruction of the Temple. Therefore the destruction of the Temple was seen as a form of spiritual legitimacy for a relatively new religion that had just gained official recognition throughout the Roman Empire. The Crusaders, however, were less concerned with the triumph of the new religion over the old than they were about the continuation of tradition from the old to the new as the means of legitimizing themselves and their presence in the Levant. The First Temple of Solomon was known to contain the Ark of the Covenant and Holy of Holies. It was on the site of the Second Temple of Solomon that the presentation of Christ occurred; Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the Jerusalem temple, Simeon, a devout man of the Old order, recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and proclaim him to be “A light for revelation to the Gentiles / and for glory to your people Israel”(Luke 2:22–38). The Crusaders would have no doubt seen this episode as the switch from the Old to the New Covenant, a continuity of tradition and manifestation of God’s will and blessing on the new Chosen people. In fact this rhetoric was not unfamiliar to the Crusaders, who saw the success of the First Crusade as a miracle against all odds and a sign that they were God’s new chosen people, fighting to redeem Jerusalem like the Maccabees of old. In fact, early in the Crusade at the Siege of Antioch, the contemporary chronicler of the First Crusade Raymond d’Aguilers was already comparing the Crusaders to the Maccabees:

“I would dare … to place this battle ahead of the fights of the Maccabees, since if Maccabaeus with three thousand felled forty-eight thousand of the enemy, more than sixty thousand of the enemy were here turned in flight by a force of forty knights. I do not, indeed, belittle the valor of the Maccabees… but I say that God, then marvelous in Maccabaeus, was now more marvelous in our troops.” Raymond d’Aguilers

When the fledgling Crusader Kingdom, impoverished and undermanned, was fighting for its very survival, the spiritual symbolism of the Temple Mount, combined with more practical concerns, provided a source of stabilizing ideological legitimacy.

Further Reading:

On the general history of Jewish Jerusalem: Bible Archaeology

On the fall of Jewish Jerusalem and the causes of the resulting diaspora:            Gambash, G. (n.d.). Rome and provincial resistance.

For more information about the early Islamic religious topography of the Temple Mount: Rosen-Ayalon, M. (1989). The early Islamic monuments of al-Ḥaram al-Sharīf: An iconographic study. Jerusalem, Israel: Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

For more information regarding the Dome of the Rock:                                               Grabar, O. (2006). The Dome of the Rock. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

For more information of about the Dome of the Chain: Archnet

For more information regarding the dispute of how Prophet Muhammad travelled to Al-Aqsa Mosque prior to the Umayyads constructing the current building: Islamic Awareness

For more information about the changing nature of the Temple Mount before, during and after the Crusader occupation:                                                                                     Schein, S.. (1984). Between Mount Moriah and the Holy Sepulchre: The Changing Traditions of the Temple Mount in the Central Middle Ages. Traditio, 40, 175–195. Retrieved from

For further information on the Temple Mount during Crusader occupation: Bas Library

For more information on Al-Aqsa Mosque: Lost Islamic History