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Sir Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades: Commentaries

What Happens in this Passage?

The crusaders, having broken into Jerusalem, set about the massacre of its inhabitants, ignoring promises of protection from crusader leaders like Tancred. The crusaders also massacred the city’s Jews, suspecting them of having helped the Muslims. Later, many Christians were appalled at the bloodshed; it also alienated those Muslims who might have been ready to work with the crusaders, enraging the Muslim world so much that it became impossible to find a peaceful way forward.

Commentary

This is a vivid description of an appalling event, and although Runciman avoids giving gruesome details of any individual’s fate, the general picture is fairly clear, especially when he describes Raymond of Aguilers picking his way through corpses with blood coming up to his knees. On the face of it, this is a straightforward narrative account, similar in style to a medieval chronicle: Runciman appears to be telling us the events without comment; in fact his view comes through very clearly from his choice of language. Although for most of the passage we are seeing events through Runciman’s eyes as they unfurl, at the end we are reminded that, unlike his characters, he knows what will follow and he uses his hindsight to invite the reader to condemn the killings even more strongly.

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