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Sir Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades: Language and Sources

Language

From the start of this extract the Crusaders are ‘maddened’ as they burst into the city and set about killing everyone they find; Runciman adds that it offered ‘bloodthirsty proof of Christian fanaticism’ and he repeatedly uses the word massacre to leave no doubt as to what has taken place here. His language is straightforward and unambiguous – ‘The building was set on fire and they were all burnt within’ – which renders it particularly effective. He balances the reference to Christian fanaticism with a reference to ‘the fanaticism of Islam’, making it clear he approves of neither; however, the second was the product of the first. ‘Fanaticism’ is not a neutral, technical term: it implies disapproval; this becomes very clear when he speaks of ‘wiser Latins in the East’ who seek to build bridges to the Muslims. The fact that these wise people are frustrated by the memory of the Jerusalem massacres simply adds to the enormity of what was done.

Sources

Runciman gives a good spread of precise references in his footnotes, all of them primary sources and including a number of Arab historians. This reliance on going back to the original chronicles was typical of his thorough approach to scholarship and lent his work much of its authority. In this case, the footnote, by supporting his account of the Crusaders’ violence, reinforces the reader’s reaction to the event. The reference to Ibn al-Athir giving Raymond of Aguilers credit for having kept his word to spare the people of the city works both to Raymond’s credit and to Ibn al-Athir’s, since it shows him to be scrupulously fair to his opponents, even I the face of atrocity. It helps to underline the treacherous nature of the Crusaders’ crime.

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