The Crusades, Cannibals and Storytelling in the Middle Ages

Roles Reversed. Tartar Cannibals in Matthew Paris’ Chronica Majora (Wiki Commons)

Many medieval textual sources for the First Crusade record that on at least one occasion during the 1095–1099 expedition, some of the crusaders, in moments of extreme hunger, engaged in survival cannibalism.

When I first encountered this during my Masters degree, I was completely puzzled. I wondered why authors included references to events which would have been very easy to gloss over (especially as crusader cannibals felt out of synch with a source-base seeking to represent the First Crusade as divinely willed, and the crusaders as God’s chosen people).

At the time I was working on the reality and representation of crusader-Muslim diplomacy for my dissertation, and so I put the topic on the back burner. It wasn’t until years later, during my PhD whereby I apply narrative theory to medieval texts, that I felt equipped to properly tackle these questions.

Linked here is a short blogpost introducing my findings which will be published in a longer piece later this year.

In the blog I discuss my methodology, and how narratology can be used by historians not only to shed interesting and important light not medieval history writing more broadly, but also on the representation of crusader cannibals specifically.

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