Spoken command of a language is not the same as literacy, whether in one’s native language or a foreign one. Although the overall level of literacy in Outremer was not recorded, some indicators suggest that literacy extended down the social scale at least as far as the gentry class and was also high among urban burgesses.
In Outremer, testaments and bequests reveal that otherwise unremarkable knights owned multiple books from different genres, such as devotional works, tour guides and romances. Biographies and memoirs also mention books. In one case, a woman pilgrim retained her psalter even after she was enslaved following the fall of the Kingdom in 1187, highlighting that women, no less than men, owned and read books in this period.
Library inventories show the diversity and quality of texts available to scholars. They include many works ‘inherited’ from their Arab predecessors, particularly in the case of Antioch. The Arabs had collected books originating in Persia and India, as well as the classical and Arab worlds. Unlike the Mongols, who turned manuscripts into shoes and destroyed all of Baghdad’s thirty-six libraries along with their books, the crusaders preserved existing Arab libraries and expanded them. Thus, Frankish libraries were famous for containing books unavailable in the West, as well as housing the usual translations of many classical works, such as Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’ and various works by Aristotle, Euclid, Cicero and Ovid (including ‘Art of Love’ and ‘Remedies for Love’). Antioch was also famous as a centre for scholarly research on medicine, and its libraries contained many translations and original works on medical theory. Histories were another genre in high demand in this period, and the libraries of Outremer offered patrons histories of Rome, Thebes, and above all, the crusades themselves.
Particularly popular, and often found in private as well as institutional libraries and collections, were books containing the prose and epic literature of the period. The works of Chretien de Troyes, Walter de Châtillon’s ‘Chanson of Alexander’, and the Chansons of Roland, Antioch, Jerusalem and ‘Chétifs’ all circulated widely in the Latin East. In his study ‘Reading and Writing in Outremer’, Anthony Bale concluded that ‘books were part of the everyday and fundamental experience of the Latin Christians of the crusader kingdoms’.
The bulk of this entry is an excerpt from Dr. Schrader's comprehensive study of the crusader states.