Ayyubids, Mamluks, and the Latin East in the Thirteenth Century

Ayyubids, Mamluks, and the Latin East in the Thirteenth Century

By R. Stephen Humphreys

Mamluk Studies Review, Vol.2 (1998)

Introduction: There was, once upon a time, a widely accepted myth that the Muslim rulers and peoples of southwest Asia were from the outset bitterly opposed to the presence among them of the Crusaders (variously portrayed as infidels or proto-imperialists), and that they struggled unceasingly if ineffectually to expel them. But that myth has long since been discarded among serious scholars. A series of essays in the mid-1950s by Claude Cahen and Sir Hamilton Gibb demonstrated that we can only perceive a consistent policy and ideology of opposition to the Crusades with the rise to power of Nur al-Din (r. 1146-1174), and then in a more heightened manner under Saladin (r. 1169-1193). A more precise definition of this process, covering the whole two centuries of Crusader rule in Syria-Palestine, was developed for the first time in the splendid monograph of Emmanuel Sivan, L’Islam et la Croisade. Sivan almost certainly understated the sanctity of Jerusalem in Islamic consciousness in the pre-Crusade era, and he may not have done justice to the military efforts of the later Fatimids and the Saljuq amirs of Syria, both of whom had to contend with a very unfamiliar threat from a position of grave weakness. But on balance his account remains the best introduction to the subject of the “Counter-Crusade.”

In spite of Sivan’s important contribution, however, the nature of the relations between the Muslim rulers of Syria and Egypt and the Crusader states after the death of Saladin (1193) has remained something of a puzzle. But in the last three  decades we have had an important series of studies on the eastern Mediterranean world in the thirteenth century. These began with two major books by Jonathan Riley-Smith, and now include studies on Crusader Cyprus by Peter Edbury, Crusader-Mamluk diplomacy by Peter Holt, the mid-thirteenth-century Crusades and the Mongol invasions by Peter Jackson, and the reign of Sultan Baybars by Peter Thorau and Reuven Amitai-Preiss. Taken together, these have brought the key issues into far sharper focus and suggested how they might be resolved.

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