Detail map of Linden-Limmer, Hannover, Niedersachsen, Germany,Jerusalem, Jerusalem District, Israel

A: Linden-Limmer, Hannover, Niedersachsen, Germany, B: Jerusalem, Jerusalem District, Israel

Jacques Bongars Issues the First Collection of Chronicles of the Crusades


In 1611 French scholar and diplomat Jacques Bongars edited a number of chronicles of the crusades under the title Gesta Dei per Francos, Sive Orientalium Expeditionum et Regnifrancorum Hierosolimitani Historia, and had them published in Hanover, Germany. Bongars' work was the first of a long series of editions and publications devoted to the Crusades, and to the fateful history of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.

"No other movement in the history of the Middle Ages has made such a strong appeal to posterity; no other cause has seemed inspired by so much valour and religious fervour. To contemporaries, the liberation of the Holy places from the yoke of the infidel had been God's own work; and the long series of calamities that followed were due to unaccountable evil forces. The unexpected success of the First Crusade appeared little short of miraculous; the establishment of a Christian State in the Holy Land, which managed to survive under the most adverse conditions for almost 200 years, was a proud achievement and an inspiration to western chivalry. Barbarossa's untimely death, the reconquest of Acre, during the Third Crusade, and the eventual collapse of the kingdom at the hands of the savage Mameluks of Egypt stirred the imagination of the Latin world for many generations to come. The opulent eastern way of life in which the Frankish setters indulged, the friendly relations that were formed between them and their Arab and Turish opponents, Saladin's magnanimity and his generosity towards their captured leaders were contrary to the Latin customs and practices of the time, and anticipated the standards and ideals of later centuries. The Crusaders' experiences, embellished with fabulous tales, figure prominenty in the contemporary chansons de geste, and the deep impression they made in the West remained well into modern times.

"The reappraisal of the Crusading movement which has taken place during the last hundred years or so has made us take a less romantic and more sober view of events. The relations between the Latin Kingdom, the Byzantine Empire, and the Moslem States appear as a game of power politics even more ruthless than subtle. The organization of the Kingdom as a feudal State on the western pattern, the crude intolerance of the Franks, and their complete failure to appreciate the guiding principles and traditions of Byzantine policy were fundamental weaknesses which were bound to aggravate antagonism and breed disaster. The history of the thirteenth century, especially, presents itself as an interminable succession of unco-ordinated exploits, inspired by personal jealousy, lust for power, cruelty, and greed. Frequently the affairs of the Kingdom were in the hands of high-minded and galant leaders who earned the respect of friend and foe alike; but their example remained without lasting influence on the course of events. No doubt the Crusades mark a turning-point in the intellectual hsitory of the western world. They ended its parochialism and self-sufficiency, and opened the way for new ideas which initiated the intellectual achievements of the Italian Renaissance. But Europe paid a terrible price. The wilful and irresponsible destruction of the political power of Byzantium led to the unchecked ascendancy of the Ottoman Turks, and to the untold humiliations and sufferings which it entailed" (Hugo Buchthal, Miniature Painting in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem [1957] xxvii-xxviii). 

(This entry was last revised on 05-05-2014.)

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