A Comparative Analysis of the Concepts of Holy War and the Idealized Topos of Holy Warrior In Medieval Anatolian And European Sources

A Comparative Analysis of the Concepts of Holy War and the Idealized Topos of Holy Warrior In Medieval Anatolian And European Sources

By Ceren Çıkın Sungur

Master’s Thesis, Bahçeşehir University, 2014

story of the crusaders

Abstract: Claims of holy war characterized the Middle Ages in both Muslim Anatolia and Christian Europe, where soldiers on both sides were portrayed as holy warriors. Named gazis, akıncısalps, chevaliers and knights, they came from the elite military classes. Literary depictions of these men as holy warriors were fundamentally idealized topoi created by writers who were patronized by or were close to those in power. These topoi were largely determined by political, social and economic circumstances, as well as the ambitions of the sovereigns, but they also reflected the ideals, beliefs and customs of the past. The idea of holy war was generated by the collaboration of power holders, religious scholars and writers who had received a predominantly religious education. Similar circumstances which arose separately in Anatolia and the West caused transformative movements in the idea of holy war in both regions. Thus, as writers produced works which involved the idealized topos of the holy warrior, Islamic and Christian versions of holy war peculiar to the Middle Ages were formed. Written in simple language which ordinary people could understand, these topoi represented role models for the people, catering to the needs of the ruling classes and forming society’s  self-image during this formative period.

Introduction: Claims of holy war characterize the period between the eleventh and the fifteenth centuries A.D., both in Christian Europe and Muslim Anatolia. According to the claims of contemporary sources such as chronicles, chivalric narrations and gazâvatnâmes, the wars were “holy” because they were waged at God’s command, with his aid, for expanding the areas ruled by the true religion of God. These literary narratives which were simultaneously created in two separate cultural regions transformed the soldiers taking part into holy warriors.

This thesis focuses on the relations between the idea of holy war and the portrayals of holy warriors in medieval narratives composed by those in the service of power-holders. The main argument is that the topos of the idealized holy warrior was deliberately created by the patronized literary elite for certain purposes. Furthermore, the idea of holy war developed in the Middle Ages as the result of comparable socio-political processes in Europe and Anatolia, due to the similar needs and requirements of the period.

A combination of internal and external threats, power struggles and socio-economic circumstances that arose in both geographic and cultural areas led to the generation of military warfare. As a consequence, the power-holders received the support and services of religious scholars and literary men. The scholars provided religious legitimacy and references to the sovereign, while the patronized literary elite wrote their idealized and mostly custom-built narratives across several literary genres. These authors generated a military culture by combining the heritage of old and ancestral knowledge, beliefs, images, and symbols, with the doctrines and teachings of monotheistic religions. They rebuilt the idealized topos of the holy warrior, portraying it as a role model for society, especially for the common man which the political units needed to recruit in order to wage war.

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