Kuskowski, Law, Custom and Colonialism in the Crusader States

A Law of Conquest: Law, Custom and Colonialism in the Crusader States

Ada Maria Kuskowski (Southern Methodist University)

Just as on the continent, the thirteenth-century crusader Mediterranean saw the development of written traditions of vernacular custom. This customary legal literature of the crusader states, known collectively as the Assizes of Jerusalem, had some important connections to legal writing on the continent, notably in France—both blossomed in the second half of the thirteenth century, both were generally in French, both sought to describe the dispute-resolution customs of the lay courts. The context of the continental and crusader texts was, however, very different. While the former could plausibly allege an autochthonous connection between custom, people and territory, the latter texts were the clear products of the exportation and imposition of European custom to a very different terrain.

This paper will examine the extent to which and in what manner the texts constituted a colonial law—a legal literature specifically designed for the situation of conquest. In so doing, I aim to move away from Joshua Prawer’s still foundational work, Crusader Institutions (1980), where the crusader texts are described as the expression of the ‘purest’ form of feudalism. This talk will rather focus on the texts as part of the medieval colonial imagination in order to think about how law and custom were perceived and what role they played in the situation of conquest.