Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York
 


 
French in the Levant

 

Following the success of the First Crusade, western lords established permanent settlements in the East to maintain and protect the territories gained by their forces during the conflict. These territories, also called the Crusader States or the Holy Land, included:

  • The Kingdom of Jerusalem
  • The Principality of Antioch
  • The County of Tripoli
  • The County of Edessa

While the Franks in these kingdoms often worked together against other Muslim rulers, the political landscape remained divided. The Princes of Antioch and the Counts of Edessa ruled their lordships independently, although by the later part of the twelfth century the Byzantine Emperors had begun to make claims to the Principality of Antioch. Although the Counts of Tripoli were supposed to do homage and fealty to the kings of Jerusalem, it appears by the late 1130s the Counts of Tripoli had asserted the independence of their lordship from the kingdom of Jerusalem.

Westerners maintained titular control over parts of these areas until the fall of Acre in 1291. While the production of original works in these areas remained limited, it is clear that French was the common language among expatriated Westerners, and that the cultural norms described in popular French romances served as the ideal for conduct within the Latin courts.

Successive waves of crusaders to the Levant included additional western combattants, and the writers who bore witness to the military feats they accomplished. Many of the most important Old French sources for the history of the Crusades were produced, therefore, by writers who did not reside permanently in the Holy Land. These works do not necessarily reflect French language production emanating from the permanent residents of the Holy Land, but are included on this site because the choice of Old French as the language of crusade discourse speaks to the reality of life among many of those who lived in the Latin East, including the state of continuous interaction and tension that existed between resident and non-resident westerners.

French texts emanating from the Crusader States included not only works of historical narrative, but also diplomatic texts, legal treatises and other works of literature. French-language texts produced in the Latin East circulated among the courts of the Latin élite, where they were copied along with French texts originating from other French-speaking areas, then stored in the families' own libraries. The greatest evidence of the importance of French-language manuscript production in the East comes from Acre, a city on the Levantine coast of the Kingdom of Jerusalem that was home to a scriptorium, which housed a highly skilled workforce, able to produce beautiful and deluxe manuscripts on behalf of their noble patrons. 
The Hospitallers, who considered French their official language, also took refuge in Acre after the fall of Jerusalem in 1187. Several Old French translations of works from other languages were produced at the Hospitaller's headquarters, many at the request of the head of the Order.

 

 

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