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The Impact of Holy Land Crusades on State Formation

The Impact of Holy Land Crusades on State Formation: War Mobilization, Trade Integration and Political Development in Medieval Europe

By Lisa Blaydes and Christopher Paik

Working Paper, Stanford University, 2015

Map of the Crusades from The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1862 edition, by Edward Gibbon

Map of the Crusades from The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1862 edition, by Edward Gibbon

Abstract: Holy Land crusades were among the most significant forms of military mobilization to take place during the medieval period. This paper argues that crusader mobilization had important implications for European state formation. We find that areas with large numbers of Holy Land crusaders witnessed increased political stability and institutional development as well as greater urbanization associated with rising trade and capital accumulation, even after taking into account underlying levels of religiosity and economic development.

Our findings contribute to a scholarly debate regarding when the essential elements of the modern state first began to appear. While our causal mechanisms — which focus on the importance of war preparation and urban capital accumulation — resemble those emphasized by Tilly, we date the point of critical transition to statehood centuries earlier, in line with scholars who emphasize the medieval origins of the modern state. We also point to one avenue by which the rise of Muslim military and political power may have impacted European institutional development.

Introduction: The rise and spread of Islam took place so rapidly that in the century following the death of the Muslim prophet, Mohammed, large parts of the Mediterranean basin — much of which previously had been under Roman rule — came under the leadership of Muslim caliphs. Islam’s success as a political-religious movement brought the Muslim religion to the Iberian peninsula in Western Europe and, eventually, to the Byzantine capital of Constantinople in Southeastern Europe. In response to a plea from the Byzantine emperor under threat of being overrun by invading Muslim Turks, in 1095 CE Pope Urban II appealed to Christians in the west to assist their eastern brethren, with a further goal of recapturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslim control. The military mobilization that followed came to be known as the Crusades, which took place for the next two centuries.

The Holy Land Crusades were, perhaps, the largest-scale military mobilizations of the medieval period and a defining feature of an era which was a critical period for the establishment of European states. Blaydes and Chaney argue that feudalism — first introduced in the 9th century — played a decisive role in the emergence of European institutional exceptionalism, particularly as feudal associations encouraged early forms of executive constraint.

But feudalism also entrenched personal elite relationships which hindered productive economic and political competition. Ruggie describes the shift from medieval feudalism — with its multiple and overlapping layers of sovereign authority — to a system of territorial states as “the most important contextual change in international politics in this millennium”. Explanations for this transition abound, yet we are aware of none that consider how the rise of Muslim military and political power may have impacted European institutional development.

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