The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa: The Culture and Practice of Crusading in Medieval Iberia

Abstract:  This study examines the phenomenon of crusading in the Iberian Peninsula through the lens of the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212). This battle was both a major Christian victory over the Almohad Empire of Morocco and its Andalusian allies, and the most successful crusade of the papacy of Innocent III. As such, it serves as an ideal case study for the practice and culture of crusading in the early thirteenth century.

The examination of the battle helps to expand our understanding of crusading in a number of ways. First, by examining the institutional aspects of the battle, against the backdrop of the career of Innocent III, it becomes clear that Las Navas was the first crusade in which all of the aspects of papal crusade policy were successfully brought together and implemented. The victory gave the Pope the confidence and capital to officially institutionalize the crusade shortly thereafter in 1215. Secondly, a close study of the participants reveals that, despite the development of official crusade practices, there were many disparate views on what exactly it meant to go on crusade, and what crusaders were expected to do. The Iberian Christians differed greatly from many of the international crusaders both in their cultural attitudes and their expectations of the campaign. For the French participants, the campaign was part of a well-established crusading tradition, passed down from their ancestors. For the Spanish, crusade was a new concept, just beginning to take hold and influence their approach to the regular warfare with their Muslim neighbors. However, the victory of Las Navas helped to solidify and expand the acceptance of crusade ideology in the minds of the Iberian Christians in the ensuing years.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Tennessee

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