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Jihād and Crusade: Byzantine positions towards the notions of “holy war”

Jihād and Crusade: Byzantine positions towards the notions of “holy war”

By Ioannis Stouraitis

BYZANTINA SYMMEIKTA, Vol. 21 (2011)

Abstract: The current study aims to re-approach the issue of holy war in Byzantium by exploring Byzantine attitudes towards the ideology of the Crusade in the period 1096-1024. The starting-point of the study is the comparison of Byzantine reactions towards the ideology of jihād, which date in the period before the Crusades, with the Byzantine reactions towards the Crusade during the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth centuries. The main part of the paper focuses on the exploration of Byzantine attitudes towards the two main Latin ideas that made the Crusade a notion of holy war, the ideas of deus vult and remissio peccatorum.

Introduction: My latest contribution to the debate about the (non-)existence of a Byzantine notion of ‘holy war’ focused on the methodological argument that the concept of ‘holy war’ is defined and distinguished by two core ideas: First, by the idea that warfare is arbitrarily justified as divine order, i.e. command; second, that warfare is perceived and propagated as a means of religion employed against infidels or heretics, thus granting the believer-warriors absolution and sanctification. The main aim of the current study is to re-approach and elaborate this argument through scrutinizing Byzantine attitudes towards the concept of crusade. The main focus is set, here, on a comparison of Byzantine reactions towards the concept of jihād, which scholars of medieval studies almost unanimously categorize as a medieval notion of ‘holy war’, with Byzantine reactions to crusade, which is generally regarded as the western Christian notion of ‘holy war’. Since the issue of Byzantine positions towards the Muslim perception of religious warfare has already been subject of analysis, it will be summarily presented here and will function as a starting-point for a comparative exploration of Byzantine attitudes towards the ‘holy war’ aspect of crusade in order to highlight similarities or differences with regard to the Byzantine reaction in each case.

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