Tolerance for the People of Antichrist: Life on the Frontiers of Twelfth-Century Outremer

Tolerance for the People of Antichrist: Life on the Frontiers of Twelfth-Century Outremer

By Jay Rubenstein

Paper given at Religious Tolerance – Religious Violence – Medieval Memories: A colloquium in memory of James Powell, held at the University of Syracuse, on September 28, 2012

Professor Jay Rubenstein deals with a fascinating aspect of the early Crusaders – how these Western European holy warriors quickly adopted the lifestyles and practices of the East, just within a few years of conquering the area.

Rubenstein, who is a professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, begins by noting that late-twelfth century writers such as Radulphus Niger were commenting on how the Western Europeans living in Outremer were increasingly looking and acting more like the Greek and Middle Eastern people they were neighbours too. One example he pointed out dates from 1184, when the Patriarch of Jerusalem toured Europe to raise awareness of situation in Outremer. In describing the visit, the chronicler Rudophus Niger expressed astonishment at the Patriarch’s Eastern-style clothing and appearance. Rudophus and other medieval thinkers are worried about what is happening with these Franks in the East. They perceived them them abd the Templars as ‘starting to go native’.

Rubenstein sees this cultural estrangement as starting as early as the First Crusade, when one finds crusade leaders entering diplomatic negotiations with Muslim rulers. This does not match with ‘end of the world’ apocalyptic thinking.

Prior to the First Crusade, only a few of the crusaders had ever encountered a Muslim before. Some anti-hagiography about Mohammed did exist (“think about Christ, write the opposite”) connecting Islam with the anti-Christ and the demonic characterization of Muslims helped justify the Christians massacring three cities of them during the First Crusade. Contemporary chronicles even celebrated this violence, noting torrents of blood and gushing currents of gore that was happening. For example, Fulcher of Chartres, writing about the victory at Antioch states, “In regard to the women found in the tents of the foe the Franks did them no evil but drove lances into their bellies.”

Fulcher of Chartres continued to live in Outremer after the First Crusade. His chronicle extended up to 1127, and he wrote about the assimilation of the crusaders as the years went on. He wasn’t the only chronicler to notice this trend – Guibert of Nogent commented how when Baldwin II was the ruler of Edessa, he started wearing Turkish clothing and let his beard grow long.

Rubenstein notes that original crusaders could not maintain their self-righteous purity and that the leaders in the East shed their identities a Holy Warriors as they assimilated into a new frontier lifestyles. Fulcher criticizes these Christians, and by the 1120s his experience in Outremer had begun to sour. Towards the end of his work, he comments “We who were Westerners, are now Easterners. We have forgotten our native land.”

Jay Rubenstein’s latest book is Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse.

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