Mapping the First Crusaders
Jay Pasricha | 28 June 2023
◇ Medieval History | European History | Social History | Religious History
We all know about the First Crusade of 1096, the first in a series of religious wars that caused immeasurable upheavals and costs to human life: but what do we know about the crusaders themselves? Building on a dataset initiated by Jonathan Riley-Smith and housed at the University of Sheffield , Charles West and I have created for the first time a GIS map showing the origins of nearly 600 participants in the First Crusade. The dataset was created to ‘enhance understanding of the motives and dynamics of the crusading movement’ , and we hope our visualisation helps bring out some of these ‘motives and dynamics’. Our map is a resource that is free for anyone to use.
What can we learn from this map? One immediate takeaway is that people were extremely mobile in this period, despite the technological limitations of the time. We decided to ensure Jerusalem was visible on the map (bottom right), to demonstrate visually the sheer distance travelled by those taking part in the First Crusade. Whether travelling across land from northern Germany, or crossing seas from the Isle of Man or Sardinia, some people in the late 11th-century Latin West felt strongly enough about going on crusade to venture over vast distances.
Of course, the French concentration in the map simply reflects the available sources. We should remember that we only have specific information about less than 1% of the estimated 100,000 participants who made their way to Jerusalem. The dataset relies heavily on French chroniclers, such as Guibert of Nogent and Robert of Rheims, as well as the Gesta Francorum. The dataset also uses documents detailing land transfers, recorded in books known as cartularies that were, again, mostly made in France. Do these sources over-represent the actual French contribution to the Crusade?
Jay Pasricha. Thanks to the Department of History at the University of Sheffield for providing funding for this experimental project, to the editors of this blog for their comments, and to Alan Murray, Nic Morton and Jonathan Phillips for granting access to the dataset A Database of Crusaders to the Holy Land | 1095 - 1149.