By Thomas Gregor Wagner
Crusades, Vol.10 (2011)
Introduction: The crusade of King Richard I of England and Philippe Augustus II of France was ill-fated. In 1191, after just a few days of intense fighting before the walls of Acre, both kings fell ill from an enigmatic illness known in Latin as arnaldia and in French as leonardie. For weeks both Richard and Philippe were close to the brink of death, before they finally recovered. In the summer of 1192 another epidemic struck the crusader army and Richard again became dangerously ill – this time with a malady referred to asfebris emitritea. For nearly three months his condition was so serious that once again his men feared for his life. At this point Richard had to abandon his plan to capture the Christian holy sites, for Jerusalem was out of the reach of a king lying on a sickbed. After he had made peace with Saladin, Richard immediately returned to Haifa to receive medical treatment. He left the Holy Land in October 1192 and it is likely that his impaired health had been a major factor influencing his return to Europe at that time. The present article describes Richard and Philippe’s crusade in terms of the diseases and the medical treatment received. This approach shows how campaigning, especially during long sieges, predisposed the crusaders to sickness. In particular, the illness known as arnaldia or leonardie is investigated in an attempt to identify its place in twelfth-century medical thought. These two terms have intrigued historians, who have been attempting to identify their meaning for over three hundred years.
The chronicles and the poetry of the Third Crusade (1189-92) record the repeated episodes of disease that befell the army and its leaders. There are two main approaches that might be employed in their modern interpretation. One technique is to interpret what they might have meant to people living at the time of the event – for example, by determining the views of medieval medical practitioners and other scholars. This may be referred to as the social diagnosis.
Another technique is to attempt to identify the cause of the disease from a modem perspective, sometimes referred to as the modem biological diagnosis. The degree to which either of these approaches will be successful depends upon whether the authors were eyewitnesses, the details recorded by the chroniclers, and whether they mention specific symptoms of the disease. This process is often difficult as the detailed symptoms of epidemics are seldom described in medieval sources. In many cases those brief statements follow stereotypical descriptions that do not allow for an accurate modem biological diagnosis. For these reasons, a retrospective analysis can often only suggest possibilities and estimate their plausibility.