Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades, 1000-1300

By John France | Go to book overview

Chapter Fourteen

Europe, ideology and the outsider

The population of Catholic Europe came into contact with a number of peoples whom, for one reason or another, they saw as different - as outsiders. There was no settled term to describe such people, which is hardly surprising in view of the differences between them, but the word “barbarian” was occasionally used to describe them all. At one end of the scale of barbarians were the Celts of the British Isles. They were Christian, but the economies of Scotland, Ireland and Wales were far less advanced than that of England. In the European heartlands war was about possession of land and rule over its people, and as few wished to rule deserts, they did not try to remove or slaughter the population. In the Celtic fringe, economic conditions were much more severe, life was cheap and slavery remained highly profitable, to the scandal of chroniclers. At the same time, the reform of the Church in England after the Norman Conquest made educated Englishmen aware of the “primitivity”, as they saw it, of Celtic religious practices. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the chroniclers revile Celtic war practices. However, if we remember the horrors of war perpetrated by so-called civilized men - the harrying of the North of England by William the Conqueror and massacre of Vitry by Louis VII spring to mind - the excesses attributed to the Celts need to be noted with a pinch of salt. The peoples of the German frontier in northern and middle Europe were seen as primitive in much the same way, but here the differences were deepened, because they were not Christian. Moreover, it was far from unknown for the Germans to enslave those they conquered. And differences of religion did not prevent agreements between the Germans and their pagan enemies. Adolf of Holstein allied with the pagan leader Nyklot, and was notably hostile to the intervention of the Second Crusade in Baltic affairs, the more so in that it was led by his rival, Henry the Lion. Finally, Christian chroniclers did not wholly condemn the

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