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The Challenge of State Building in the Twelfth Century: the Crusader States in Palestine and Syria

The Challenge of State Building in the Twelfth Century: the Crusader States in Palestine and Syria

By Malcolm Barber

Reading Medieval Studies, Vol. 36 (2010)

Introduction: According to the chronicler Roger of Howden, in September 1188, Henry II of England and Philip II of France met on the borders of Normandy with the intention of negotiating at least a temporary peace in their apparently interminable wars. However, matters did not tum out well:

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Then, having convened a conference between them at Gisors, when they were unable to agree on the terms of peace, the king of France, aroused to rage and indignation, cut down a certain very beautiful elm tree between Gisors and Trie, where it had been the custom of the kings of France and the dukes of Normandy to hold conferences, swearing that from now on they would never have conferences there. 

The point is not so much Philip II’s tantrum, but the fact that this had been a traditional place for holding such meetings, until then respected by both sides. In the twelfth century, the rulers of Latin Christendom governed through established laws and accepted conventions; they knew what they were supposed to do, even if they did not always do it, because they understood the context within which they had gained power and in which they were thereafter obliged to operate. In contrast. the Latins who settled in the East after the capture of Antioch in 1098 and of Jerusalem in 1099 had no such framework. Past structures to which they could tum, such as the Byzantine diocesan system, were well out of date by the late eleventh century, while the only functioning Latin institution was the Benedictine monastery of St Mary of the Latins, situated to the south-west of the church of the Holy Sepulchre, which provided two hospices to care for pilgrims.

In short, the Latins who settled in Syria and Palestine after the First Crusade were faced with the immense challenge of creating states almost de novo, knowing that they themselves, having been drawn from many different parts of the West lacked any homogeneity, and that they did not even have any idea how many of them would remain in the East on a permanent basis.

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Top Image: The Crusader States in 1200. Image by ExploretheMed / Wikimedia Commons

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