Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Jay C. Rubenstein

Committee Members

Matthew B. Gillis, Robert J. Bast, Maura K. Lafferty


This dissertation explores how Frankish authors developed a rhetoric of horror that ultimately defined the First Crusade in medieval historiography. Within the last forty years, crusade historians have focused on piety—that is, the crusaders believed that their aggressive defense of the Holy Land against Muslim Turks would guarantee their own personal salvation—as one of the primary motivations for participants. Only recently, though, have historians considered how the earliest crusade texts reflect the themes of memory, gender, trauma, and emotions associated with war, including fear, grief, and vengeance. Second-generation chroniclers of the crusade, who were monks residing in Northern France and never visited the Holy Land, chose to frame their histories as horror stories, allowing their readers to witness war without ever leaving their cloistered communities. To create this rhetoric, monks relied often on Roman models of storytelling and incorporated philosophical and poetic texts into their accounts. In the initial chapters, I outline the literary careers of Baldric of Dol, Guibert of Nogent, and Gilo of Paris, three Benedictine monks who sharpened their skills as poets and recast the war for Jerusalem as Christian epic, whose leaders superseded the feats of ancient warriors. For the last two chapters, I turn to the principality of Antioch, as described Walter the Chancellor, a veteran of the Antiochene Wars, and La chanson’Antioche, an Old French epic that glories the crusader siege of 1098. These five Frankish sources portray the Holy Land as place of horror, one tainted by Islam’s presence, but ultimately a location for Christian redemption. By writing about the crusade in terrifying terms, authors could engage emotionally with their audience, forcing readers to react to their narratives and to reflect on their own piety. Horror helped readers to identify threats that lurked within texts, whether they were outward “monsters” like the Turks, or internal fears of sin. Ultimately, a vocabulary of horror was the only approach for an event like the First Crusade, which lay outside the bounds of ordinary experience.

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