The Role of the Crusades in the transfer of Islamic science to the West

Local builders employed by the Crusaders revealed the solutions to the problems of construction orally or by demonstration. Talbot Rice points out that in the area dominated by the Seljuk Turks during the Crusades there was building work `involving fine stone masonry, pointed arches, elaborate voussoirs and defensive conceptions which were to follow in Romanesque and Gothic architecture a generation or so later.'

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Aspects of the Islamic Influence on Science and Learning in the Christian West (12th-13th century) by Salah Zaimeche

 

The best work on the influence of the Eastern Islamic thought on Western Christendom during the Crusades is by a German: Prutz’s Kulturgeschichte der kreuzzuge. The most unfortunate thing is, again, unlike many of the hollow books covering Islamic history and civilisation, and which have been eagerly studied and translated, this work has been left untouched, never translated into any other language. Extracts here and there offer a fairly good image of the Crusaders’ impact, though.

Building Technology

Cochrane gives some brief idea on the Crusades’ impact through her study of the career and life of Adelard of Bath, the first English scientist, who travelled eastwards during the Crusades. Cochrane, relying on the works by Harvey in particular, shows such Muslim influence on Western construction techniques during the times of the Crusades. She explains how pre Norman churches in England, so many of which had skew chancels, revealed the builders' difficulty to achieve true rectangles.

In the development of the so called Gothic style, she hails the use of the pointed arch, which was made possible via the contacts with the Muslims during the Crusades. Harvey, to whom she refers, quotes Christopher Wren's `the new architecture should be called Saracenic rather than Gothic.' Whilst the new geometry that was then introduced in the West could have played a part, Cochrane points out that the transition was rapid following the First Crusade. Local builders employed by the Crusaders revealed the solutions to the problems of construction orally or by demonstration. Talbot Rice points out that in the area dominated by the Seljuk Turks during the Crusades there was building work `involving fine stone masonry, pointed arches, elaborate voussoirs and defensive conceptions which were to follow in Romanesque and Gothic architecture a generation or so later.' And to support the notion further, the proportioning of the arches in the Islamic world is, `basically similar to early Gothic. The system had the advantage of deriving its ratios from the perfect square, a favoured shape in Islamic buildings century after century.' Cochrane also points out that it was not just via the Crusades that the influence worked but also in their former territories of Europe, where, as she explains, the first impetus towards a new style came with the defeat of the Muslims in Spain and Sicily.

University Education

Higher learning, in the way it is organised today also found its way to the West via the Crusades mainly, although as shown previously Spain had provided an impact, too. Makdisi outlines yet another excellent work which remains mostly inaccessible on the history of learning, that is Ribera’s excellent Disertaciones Y Opusculos, in which Ribera gives his views on the Muslim source of modern university learning. Ribera states that the rise of European universities followed Oriental universities, and that the channels of communication was opened by the Crusades. In justification Ribera cites three phenomena:

“1) The swiftness of the universities appearance and propagation, without slow and gradual transformation of the organisation of studies.”

“2) The contrasts which prevailed in the customs and organisation of these universities, `betraying a fusion of opposing tendencies of two distinct civilisations.”

“3) The custom of granting certificates or degrees that has no precedent in the Christian Middle Ages, or in Rome, or in Greece, but that was prevalent in the Muslim world, where masters were already doing so `for three or four centuries in that form used in the beginning by university professors, to be converted later in Europe into monopolistic patents and surviving down to the present day.” Ribera

The crusades offered much else that it is too long to discuss here, and belong, hopefully to future works, including in this respect: the practice of bathing, sugar and glass production, many branches of textile manufacturing, the art of castle fortification, the spirit of chivalry, and so on and so forth.

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