By Konrad Hirschler
Forthcoming – Crusades, Vol. 13 (2014)
Introduction: In 2004 this journal published B. Kedar’s seminal article on the Jerusalem massacre in the western historiography of the Crusades. His article discussed reports ranging from eyewitness accounts to modern studies and tried to establish along the way a historically accurate picture of the events. On the basis of the medieval Latin (and also to some extent the Arabic) sources, Kedar concluded that ‘the massacre in Jerusalem was considerably more extensive than in other towns’. The present article examines the reports in (mostly Muslim) Arabic chronicles written between the early sixth/twelfth century and the end of the Mamluk era in 923/1517 to ask firstly what factual material these texts contain and secondly in what ways the authors ascribed meaning(s) to the conquest of Jerusalem. The argument in the following will thus be twofold and suggests firstly that the early Arabic sources do not imply that the conquest of Jerusalem was accompanied by a massacre that was more extensive than those in other towns. A number of contemporary or near-contemporary Arabic texts leave no doubt that a massacre did take place, but they contain no evidence of large-scale carnage of the town’s population that was any greater than that which took place in cities and towns such as Antioch, Caesarea or Maʿarrat al-Nuʿmān. The article’s second argument is that the conquest of the town only started to be remembered on a significant level several decades after the event itself. It was only from this point onwards that the fall of the town gradually became a meaningful part of the region’s indigenous history and that it was described as a full-scale massacre.
As previous scholars have remarked, especially C. Hillenbrand, Arabic representations of the initial Crusader conquest are highly diverse and do not present a uniform picture. With reference to Jerusalem, I argue more specifically that three different conquest traditions developed quite independently of one another in Syria, Egypt and Iraq during the sixth/twelfth century. These traditions rarely agreed on what happened in the hours and days after the fall of Jerusalem and also disagreed on other issues such as the identity of the (Frankish/Byzantine) conquerors and their (Egyptian/Turkish/Muslim) opponents. It was only in the early seventh/thirteenth century with Ibn al-Athīr’s (d. 630/1233) chronicle that a non-regional conquest narrative emerged, which became the hegemonic way to present the events. Ibn al- Athīr’s evocative account of full-scale massacre and plunder as part of a Frankish-Muslim confrontation, hereafter termed the ‘Islamic narrative’, has remained popular until the present for the work of those scholars who argue that the conquest was indeed accompanied by a massacre. However, as the following will argue his account is, to say the least, of limited value for a historical reconstruction of the conquest of Jerusalem.