In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Crusading Warfare

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Weapons and Technology on Land and Sea
  • Logistics and Crusading Warfare
  • The Military Orders
  • Eastern Warfare
  • Fortifications in the East at the Time of the Crusades
  • Victims and Making Peace

Medieval Studies Crusading Warfare
John France
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0104


The Crusades are one of the spectaculars of historical study—a series of events so startling that they demand attention even from writers whose primary interest lies elsewhere. The whole history of western Christendom in the Middle Ages, and indeed beyond, is interwoven with the crusading movement, which became deeply embedded in the piety of medieval people. Partly as a result, the study of the military aspects of the Crusades was long overwhelmed by interest in many other aspects of the subject, especially the nature of the piety that drove people to join these expeditions and to live in the distant East. Thus, much early discussion of military matters was found in general histories of the Crusades or in histories of the warfare of western Europe, and, to some extent, these remain important. Outline histories of the Crusades are plentiful, but surveys of European warfare are less common, and some old and outdated books are still in use. Writing the military history of the Crusades is no easy task because the sources are voluminous, and many of them contain only passing references to military matters. This, in part, is why no major synthesis has emerged, although in recent years there has been a substantial volume of very specialist writing on the military history of the Crusades.

General Overviews

There is no general overview of crusading warfare, and the following works focus on the Middle East. Smail 1995 remains the most important work on crusading warfare, though of course it covers only the period down to 1193. Morton 2020 is an exceptional piece of research covering much the same period with great precision and treats the conflict in the whole Middle East. Marshall, 1992 essentially continues Smail 1995 through the thirteenth century. Lewis 1988 sets this conflict in the context of the wider clash between settled and steppe peoples. Ideological aspects are covered in Bachrach 2003, Housley 2002, and Housley 2008, while France 2000 suggests that in the twelfth century there was such a thing as a distinctive crusading style of war.

  • Bachrach, David Stewart. Religion and the Conduct of War, c. 300–c. 1215. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2003.

    The Crusades were a form of ideological warfare, and this book seeks to explain the evolution of Christian attitudes to violence.

  • France, John. “Crusading Warfare and Its Adaptation to Eastern Conditions in the Twelfth Century.” Mediterranean Historical Review 15 (2000): 49–66.

    DOI: 10.1080/09518960008569778

    This article suggests that the settlers modified their military methods considerably in the face of conditions in the East to produce a distinctive style of war. But if that is the case, did it end with the defeat at Hattin and the collapse of the Kingdom in 1187, after which Jerusalem ceased to be the main participant and became dependent on outside military forces?

  • Housley, Norman. Religious Warfare in Europe, 1400–1536. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    It is often forgotten that crusading did not end in 1291 and covered a much wider area than merely the Middle East. Housley is the preeminent scholar of this later period and here deals comprehensively with military aspects of the subject.

  • Housley, Norman. Fighting for the Cross. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

    Here we have the soldier’s story of the Crusades. The experience of individual crusaders to the East in the period 1095–1291 is explored in some depth in a popular but learned work.

  • Lewis, Archibald R. Nomads and Crusaders, A.D. 1000–1368. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

    This book has been rather neglected, yet it is very important for an understanding of the conflict between the different style of war of Western Christians and their steppe enemies, the Turks.

  • Marshall, Christopher J. Warfare in the Latin East, 1192–1291. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

    Marshall, a pupil of Smail, continues his master’s work down to 1291. The book is thematic and rather thin on individual Crusades.

  • Morton, Nicholas. The Crusader States and Their Neighbours: A Military History, 1099–1187. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198824541.001.0001

    Morton sets the crusading states very clearly in the context of the Middle East. Careful research succinctly covers a vast range of knowledge and skillful analysis, especially of battles, is an outstanding contribution to crusading history.

  • Smail, R. C. Crusading Warfare, 1097–1193. 2d ed. Updated by Christopher J. Marshall. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    Only a work of the very highest quality could have such enduring importance. Smail looked at the crusaders in the light of the kind of society from which they came and argued that their fighting qualities arose from the nature of their world and their religious beliefs. He paints a striking portrait of a society struggling to survive in a hostile environment and perceives that all kinds of military campaigns were important. A great contribution is to reveal the nature of the fighting march by which the crusaders avoided battle until they could meet it on their own terms. Smail regarded the mounted arm as vitally important for the settlers in the Holy Land but saw the infantry as important but essentially subordinate, and most later writers agree with him. Inevitably, some parts of Smail’s work have been superseded and he omitted some matters altogether.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.