Terror in the Old French Crusade Cycle: from Splendid Cavalry to Cannibalism

Terror in the Old French Crusade Cycle: from Splendid Cavalry to Cannibalism

By Sarah-Grace Heller, Ohio State University

Paper given at Re-Visioning Terrorism: An Interdisciplinary and International Conference – September, 2011 – Purdue University

Abstract: It is worth examining memories of the crusading experience in discussions of terrorism in history as well as the current political situation. The main piece of propaganda that linked Osama Bin-Laden to the 9/11 attacks, the “World Islamic Front Statement urging Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,” evoked a Muslim memory of the crusades largely forgotten in the West.

The works of the Old French Crusade Cycle are unique texts remembering and fantasizing the encounter with Muslims and other “others” in the Mediterranean. Composed by Graindor de Douai between 1190 and 1212, they recounted the First Crusade (1095-1099) in the era of the Third (1188-90) and Fourth (1204). The Crusade Cycle remains among the most obscure works in medieval French, yet was quite popular in its day. Its obscurity is likely due to shame at the use of what could be termed “terrorist” techniques by parts of the Frankish host, such as cannibalism, catapulting of severed heads into the besieged cities, and rape. Works of the cycle’s central nucleus such as the Songs of Antioch and Jerusalem represent these acts ambivalently, with both humor and condemnation of the sin involved.

This paper examines representations of fear inspired by battle tactics: when do the Franks imagine they have terrified the Saracen? Whereas the great knights are celebrated for their dazzling armor and terrifying battle horses, the effective “terrorism” of roasting Muslims outside city walls is relegated to a marginal group, the Tafurs.

Click here to read this article from Purdue University

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