Research Stream


Megan Cassidy-Welch (2014-2016)
The University of Queensland

Atrocity, Emotion and the thirteenth-century Crusades

Atrocity in war has long been narrated using emotional language and imagery. This project explores how atrocity in war was described and given meaning by medieval writers, artists and preachers during the time of the crusades.

Atrocity, Emotion and the thirteenth-century Crusades

Image: Guy de Lusignan and Saladin at the Battle of Hattin (1187), from the Chronica majora of Matthew Paris, Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 26,  fol.140.  

This project examines the emotions associated with medieval wartime atrocities. It particularly examines the emotions articulated by both perpetrators and victims to describe and understand acts of massacre, rape and displacement of peoples that occurred during the crusades of the thirteenth century. The textual and visual sources of the crusades are remarkably full of emotional reporting just as they are depressingly full of evidence of acts of appalling violence. Yet the connections between emotions and wartime atrocity have yet to be critically examined for this period. Analysis of those connections will enhance our understanding of how emotions were used historically to find and articulate meaning in acts of extreme violence in warfare.

The terminology being used in this project is historically quite specific. By atrocity, Megan Cassidy-Welch refers  to acts that were culturally understood (that is, by specific communities in specific times and places) to exceed the 'normal' violence of warfare. These acts include massacres, the displacement of peoples, sexual violence and acts of desecration that were reported as acts of enormitas, atrocitas, saevitia and so on in the chronicles, letters and canonical texts of the time. Written regulations for the conduct of war are hard to find before the mid-thirteenth century, although the principle of ius ad bello was certainly part of the widespread diffusion of just war theory from the eleventh century. It seems that the conduct of war was customary and what constituted atrocitas for one could constitute triumphant defeat of an enemy for another. This is why using emotions as a category of historical analysis is particularly fruitful. The emotional language used to talk about the same event or act - especially by those who witnessed it - can tell us much about subjective understandings of what was just and legitimate and what was unlawful and indefensible. Thus, the central research question to be examined is How are emotions integrated into accounts of atrocity and what purpose do they serve?

Relevant publications

Cassidy-Welch, M. War and Memory at the Time of the Fifth Crusade. Philadelphia: Penn State University Press, forthcoming August 2019.

Cassidy-Welch, Megan, ed., Remembering Crusades and Crusaders (Routledge: forthcoming, 2016)

Cassidy-Welch, Megan and Anne E. Lester, eds., Crusades and Memory (London: Routledge, 2015) originally a special issue of the Journal of Medieval History (volume 40:3, 2014)

Cassidy-Welch, Megan, ‘O Damietta: memory and crusade in thirteenth-century Egypt’ Journal of Medieval History 40:3 (2014), 346-60.

Cassidy-Welch, Megan, ‘The Monastery of São Vicente de Fora in Lisbon as a site of crusading memory’, Journal of Medieval Monastic Studies 3 (2014), 1-20.

Cassidy-Welch, Megan and Anne E. Lester, ‘Memory and Interpretation: New Approaches to the Study of the Crusades’, Journal of Medieval History 40:3 (2014), 225-36.

Cassidy-Welch, Megan, ‘The Stedinger Crusade: war, remembrance and absence in thirteenth-century Germany’, Viator: UCLA Journal for Medieval and Renaissance Studies 44:2 (2013), 1-16.

Cassidy-Welch, Megan, ‘Images of Blood in the Historia Albigensis of Pierre of les Vaux-de-Cernay’, Journal of Religious History (2011), 478-91.

Cassidy-Welch, Megan, ‘Memories of space in thirteenth-century France: displaced people after the Albigensian crusade’, Parergon 27: 2 (2010), 111-31.