Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Crusader Kingdoms of “Outremer”

The first crusade, described last week, was an armed pilgrimage in response to a plea from the Byzantine Emperor to free former Christian territories from Muslim rule.  The first crusade indeed re-established Christian rule over the Holy Land, but the Western knights and noblemen who fought their way to Jerusalem felt they had been betrayed by the Greeks by the time they finally got there.  Therefore, instead of returning the territory they had captured from the Saracens to Byzantine control, the crusaders established a series of independent states with Christian rulers from Antioch to Palestine: the Principality of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripoli, and – most important – the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In the course of the Third Crusade, the last - and most enduring - crusader kingdom was established on the Island of Cyprus.

The crusaders who founded and ruled these states were a tiny elite from Western Europe, dependent on the local population composed predominantly of Orthodox Christians, with smaller populations of Jews, Muslims, and new settlers from all across the West. In short, the inhabitants were not a homogenous population, but rather a motley collection of peoples who spoke a variety of languages (Greek, Armenian, Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, Amharic, French, Italian, Spanish, German,  English etc. etc.) and lacked common traditions. Thus, although Latin churches were built and the various Latin religious orders soon established a presence, neither the Orthodox Churches nor the synagogues nor mosques were destroyed; the inhabitants of the crusader kingdoms were free to follow their religious conscience.
Furthermore, the states were at the crossroads of trade between East and West, and the ports of Christian Palestine were the key points for transshipping the riches brought by caravan from China, Persia, Egypt, and Arabia to the entire Western world. This made them prosperous and cosmopolitan. Christian Palestine, known in the West as “Outremer” (beyond the sea), rapidly became a melting pot for culture and a breeding ground for art and science.
Pilgrims and later crusaders often felt alienated by this openness to other cultures, particularly the tolerance of Muslims and Jews.  Yet it was this very openness -- and an appreciation of the complexities of the world around them -- that enabled the crusader kingdoms to endure almost 200 years in Palestine and another two hundred years on Cyprus.
 
This was a remarkable achievement that demonstrated diplomatic as well as military competence. If the crusader kingdoms had simply been bastions of bigotry, as sometimes portrayed in modern literature, they would not have survived. Instead, they thrived by adapting to their environment, building upon their own strengths and exploiting the weakness of their enemies. They erected magnificent castles that enabled the small Latin elite to effectively control their territories, while consciously cultivating support from the Italian city-states, whose superior ships ensured them virtual control of the Mediterranean. The inhabitants of the crusader kingdoms were not ignorant brutes, but savvy, educated and highly civilized men and women, who earned the respect of their enemies.
 
These fascinating kingdoms, with their cultural diversity, are the setting for seven of my ten Tales of Chivalry. Two of the Templar Tales are set in Outremer, the Lion of Karpas trilogy is set on crusader kingdom of Cyprus, and, of course, the story of Balian d'Ibelin is also the story of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at the end of the 12th Century.
 
 

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