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  • The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance
  • John France
The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance. By Christopher MacEvitt. [The Middle Ages Series.] (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2008. Pp. viii, 272. $49.95. ISBN 978-0-812-24050-4.)

As in the Arab-Israeli wars of modern times, so in the confrontation of Islam and the Crusades, we tend to forget the third party, the eastern Christians. They barely figure in most histories of the crusades. Yet when Pope Urban II launched his expedition in 1095, they were in the forefront of his mind, for he wanted to aid them against their Islamic oppressors. Since then, they have been written out of the story. In this book MacEvitt explains why the sources appear to underpin this silence and shows that in reality they were much more important than we have come to believe. To some extent he is following the work of Roni Ellenblum, who has suggested, on the basis of archaeological and written evidence, that crusader relations with the native Christians were good and, indeed, important to the survival of the kingdom. 1 Ellenblum’s focus, however, was the western settlers, while here MacEvitt is directly concerned with the eastern Christians. His subtitle, “Rough Tolerance,” does not refer to convivencia, the grudging tolerance, so often laced with random violence, conceded to conquered Muslims in Spain. MacEvitt’s central thesis is that Latin sources say so little about the various sects of eastern Christians because the Latin Kingdom in the twelfth century, by and large, treated them like anybody else and was uninterested in the theological niceties that distinguished Jacobites from Armenians and even Latins. Moreover, this tolerance extended to treating with native Christian elites and ecclesiastical leaders, and accepting them into positions of power, notably the Arrabi family in Jerusalem. This is startling rereading of our sources and a complete revision of the view, essentially devised by Joshua Prawer but followed by many others, that after 1099 the Latins simply took over the confessional system from their Islamic predecessors, but inverted it so that Muslims communities had the lowest status, and native Christians enjoyed a servile and bare tolerance.2 A good deal of the book is concerned with Edessa, for which his conclusions are less surprising, because there Latins [End Page 596] were few and the Armenian lords were so important that both the first two counts, Baldwin I and Baldwin II, married Armenian women. When it comes to the Latin Kingdom itself, where, as he says, we have more evidence, MacEvitt convincingly demolishes the notion that only Latins were free and all others were servile. His emphasis is on ecclesiastical relations, and here he produces a very convincing argument for Latin recognition of the importance of native Christians by stressing their role in the Holy Sepulchre and Latin recognition of their hierarchy. Moreover, Latins took communion from native priests of all denominations. The analysis of the Council of Jerusalem of 1141 is particularly impressive, and the idea that the Byzantines used their influence to emphasize their differences from Jacobites and others is interesting. MacEvitt argues that the Latins became exclusive only in the thirteenth century, as a result of European ecclesiastical development and the radically changed nature of their settlement. The only application of the term heretic to eastern Christians before Jacques de Vitry in the thirteenth century occurs in the Letter of the Crusader Leaders dated September 11, 1098 (p. 1): it would have strengthened MacEvitt’s case if he had recognized that this denunciation was rooted in political events that also led to what he curiously describes as the crusaders “having chosen not to return the city [Antioch] to Byzantine control” (p. 100). These are, however, very minor blemishes. This is an excellent and exciting book that states a novel case succinctly and clearly.

John France
Swansea University


1. Roni Ellenblum, Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Cambridge, UK, 1998).

2. See especially Joshua Prawer, The Crusaders’ Kingdom: European Colonialism in the Middle Ages (New York, 1972).



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