The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance.
The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance. By Christopher MacEvitt. The Middle Ages. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. xviii + 273 pp. $49.95 cloth.
Christopher MacEvitt approaches the history of the crusades and the Latin Levant between 1097 and 1187 from an intriguing perspective that leads him to conclusions about the nature of Frankish settlement in the Levant that, not surprisingly, differ substantially from those earlier writers have commonly drawn.
MacEvitt centers his study upon the impact of the crusades prior to the Battle of Hattin (4 July 1187) on the indigenous Christian communities of the region and, more unusually, upon those communities' impact on the Frankish settlements created during the aftermath of the first crusade. He makes telling use of archaeological evidence, particularly in the work of Ronnie Ellenblum and Denys Pringle, that has much to tell us about contacts between Frankish settlers and indigenous Christians.
His reading of the evidence leads MacEvitt to reject the nineteenth-century "segregationist" view that depicts the settlements created in the aftermath of the first crusade as colonies in which Latin settlers exercised strict and far-from-benevolent control over the communities of local Christians who resided in the regions that had come under Frankish governance. The rulers of the Latin East, according to "segregationist" historians, regarded their new Christian subjects first and foremost as schismatics or heretics and maintained a firm religious separation from them. In contrast, MacEvitt characterizes the religious interaction between Frankish settlers and indigenous Christians as "rough tolerance." By this MacEvitt means that Latin authorities permitted Melkites, Jacobites, Armenians, and Nestorians to retain their own clerical hierarchies, as well as their traditional rites and beliefs, unhindered, and generally refrained from attempts to force them to conform to Roman practices or beliefs. The Maronites, a community that separated from the Melkites while under Frankish rule, formed an exception to the general rule, since they reconciled themselves doctrinally with the papacy and in return were allowed to retain their own clergy and traditional liturgical services. They thus became the earliest so-called uniate church in communion with Rome.
MacEvitt notes that the Frankish policy of practical forbearance in dealing with non-Latin Christians differed radically from the way the Roman church dealt with religious deviants in Western Europe. Frankish rulers in the Levant, to be sure, reserved the right to intervene with indigenous Christians who seemed to threaten Frankish political power and were anything but shy about doing so. But even when Latin leaders did crack down on one group or another, they invariably did so only at the local level and against particular individuals, not against whole religious or ethnic communities.
Rough tolerance, MacEvitt argues, permitted an "easy flow of persons and practices across social and religious boundaries" (23) in the Latin East. In support of this generalization he cites, for example, politically motivated marriages between members of Frankish ruling families and high-ranking indigenous Christians who apparently took no steps to convert to the Latin rite and instances in which Latin church authorities treated local clerics as confreres, sharing the use of rural churches with them. In short, he maintains, the Franks in the Levant for the most part did not treat indigenous Christians as heretics or schismatics. In contrast to most historians of the crusades and the Latin East (particularly Steven Runciman), MacEvitt argues that Frankish rule in the Levant resulted in the revitalization of local Christian communities.
Unlike previous writers on the region during this period, MacEvitt relies heavily on Armenian sources, including many not available in translation. These in turn furnish him with plentiful information about the County of Edessa. Crusade historians have typically brushed off Edessa, which the Latin sources largely ignore, as marginal to the Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripoli, and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. In those states, which were situated in Syria and Palestine, the indigenous Muslim population commanded considerable wealth and social clout, while native Christians were far less numerous. Although Frankish settlers held the reins of political and military power, they formed no more than a tiny minority of the whole. Latin rulers of course likewise controlled the County of Edessa, but there, in contrast to the other Latin states, Armenian Christians comprised the bulk of the population. The Latins who secured control of the region, beginning with Baldwin of Boulogne (later King Baldwin I of Jerusalem), did so with support from a significant part of the Christian population. Baldwin and his successors were careful to maintain that support by, among other things, strategic marriage alliances with members of elite Armenian families. This made it easier for them not only to augment their own military forces with Armenian allies, but also to secure financial assistance from their subjects.
The relationship between Frankish settlers and indigenous Christian communities, MacEvitt argues, changed radically in the aftermath of the Battle of Hattin and the subsequent conquest of the greater part of the Frankish-held areas in the Levant. That conquest led survivors of many Latin ruling families who had lost control of their former lands to depart. They were replaced by more recent arrivals from Western Europe whose relationship with the indigenous Christians in what remained of the earlier Latin states proved far less accommodating than that of their twelfth-century predecessors. The policy of rough tolerance largely disappeared in the fragmentary Latin states that survived until the capture of Acre in 1291.
MacEvitt's book poses a striking challenge to prevailing views of the history of the crusader states. It can be counted on, I think, to provoke some healthy controversy among crusade historians as well as further reexamination of the long-neglected topic of the indigenous Christians of the Levant under Frankish rule.
James A. Brundage
Emeritus, University of Kansas
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|Author:||Brundage, James A.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2008|
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