The Middle Ages: A Time of Ignorance, or a Time of Civilization and Learning?

In many of the movies you see on the Middle Ages today, you will see a rather frequent stereotype: the Christians of Europe were a bunch of savage ignoramuses who just liked killing and reveled in war and bloodshed. Is this accurate? Allow me to elaborate.

In Ridley Scott’s 2005 “historical” epic Kingdom of Heaven, the knights of western Christendom are portrayed as savage beasts while the Saracens are portrayed as civilized and peace-loving. I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth. Saladin was a jihadist, and, hence, a killer. Balien of Ibelin was not a blacksmith as portrayed in the movie. On the contrary, Muslim, I will say it again, Muslim chroniclers, said he was, “like a prince.” That is a high amount of praise coming from a people like the Muslims when describing a Christian warrior.

Also, it must be said, the Crusaders weren’t just in the Holy Land butchering and raping. In fact, the Knights Templars were said to have been very good negotiators. According to Templar historian Barbara Frale, the Templars actually negotiated alliances, I will say that again, alliances, with Muslim warlords. This shows that, far from being savage killers, the Crusaders were ready to negotiate with any Muslim who was willing, (“the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”)

Also you have to consider several prominent writers of the period. First you have the anonymous author of the Gesta Francorum, the chronicle of the First Crusade. Then you have people like William of Tyre and the Byzantine chronicler Anna Komnena who wrote there own chronicles of the Crusades.

I hope this sheds some light on a subject that is cloudy at best for most people. And I hope that you will read more about the Crusades. Two books that have been recommended are the New Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas F. Madden, and God’s War: A New History of the Crusades by Christopher Tyerman. Pick up some copies! You may find them helpful!

Then, I will leave it up to you: were the Middle Ages a time of darkness and ignorance, or were they a time of Christian learning?

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