By Claude Cahen
Past and Present, Vol.6 (1954)
Introduction: The subject of the crusades is one that has fascinated very many writers in the past, and still continues to attract apologists of all persuasions, not only religious, but political, and social. Nevertheless the more that is written, the less there seems to be of value to the scientific historian. It cannot be denied that some of the literature is very erudite, and that many of the authors have tried to look at things from a new point of view. In spite of this the popular textbooks continue to serve up the same traditional errors, while learned works, besides suffering from weaknesses due to the contemporary outlook on history, suffer also from certain inherent difficulties. The Crusades belong to the history of both West and East, and it is difficult for a historian to be an expert in both. This short article does not pretend to provide even a plan for a comprehensive study of the whole subject. All that I shall attempt will be to examine the particular question of the First Crusade, giving an outline of the progress recently made in research, and suggesting desirable lines of further study.
For nine and a half centuries, the textbooks have repeated, almost word for word, with mechanical regularity, that the cause, or at least the immediate cause, of the Crusades was the Turkish conquest of the Near East, which they say constituted a very real threat to Christendom, that had to be countered by military action. Looking at the Turks in the light of the later history of the Ottoman Empire, historians have supposed them to have been always an intolerant race. As a first step this traditional view must be considerably modified.