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Movie distorts Crusader and Templar History

Tekst en Foto's : Jan Hosten, 2004

History is becoming more and more a source of inspiration for big business cinema. After Gladiator and more recently King Arthur, the award-winning editor Sir Ridley Scott, takes on the Crusades at end of the XIIth Century. Scott portrays his movie as being historically correct, but repeats clichés and fails to base his story upon the latest historical research. Saladin is once again the perfect knight and the Templars are once more the bad guys …

kingdom of heaven

Image : Orlando Bloom features as Balian of Ibelin in the movie “Kingdom of Heaven”.

In June 2005, the movie “Kingdom of Heaven” will be presented to the audience in the United States.  Sir Ridley Scott, director of movies like Black Hawk Down and Gladiator, takes us back to the reign of King Baldwin IV (1161-1185) and to the later Battle of Hattin in 1187. He was succeeded by the infant Baldwin V and soon after by his brother-in-law, Guy de Lusigan. In the forthcoming movie, a group of muslims, christians and jews join together in a brotherhood. Regardless of their faith, they work together against the “evil” Guy and the “evil” Templars. They were working together," the film's spokesman said. "It was a strong bond until the Knights Templar caused friction between them.  At the end of our picture, our heroes defend the Muslims, which was historically correct", said Sir Ridley’s spokesman. Some of the world most respected historians say the movie “distorsts” the history of the Crusades and puts the Arabs in a favourable light. We have gathered some reactions.


Prof Riley-Smith, Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University, said the plot was "complete and utter nonsense and that it relied on the romanticised view of the Crusades propagated by Sir Walter Scott in his book The Talisman, published in 1825 and now discredited by academics. The Talisman depicts the Muslims as sophisticated and civilised, and the Crusaders are all brutes and barbarians. It has nothing to do with reality." Professor Riley-Smith attacked the plot of Kingdom of Heaven, describing it as "rubbish", "ridiculous", "complete fiction" and "dangerous to Arab relations". “It's not historically accurate at all. Guy of Lusignan lost the Battle of Hattin against Saladin, yes, but he wasn't any badder or better than anyone else. There was never a confraternity of Muslims, Jews and Christians. That is utter nonsense. Sir Ridley's efforts are misguided and pander to Islamic fundamentalism. It's Osama bin Laden's version of history. It will fuel the Islamic fundamentalists."

Robert Spencer published a study on global Jihad : “In my book Onward Muslim Soldiers, I spend a chapter debunking the myth of Muslim Spain — the idea that Al-Andalus was in the Middle Ages a beacon of tolerance where Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together in harmony.”

Dr Jonathan Philips, a lecturer in history at London University and author of The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, says “The film relied on an outdated portrayal of the Crusades and could not be described as a history lesson. The Templars as 'baddies' is only sustainable from the Muslim perspective, and 'baddies' is the wrong way to show it anyway. They were the biggest threat to the Muslims and many ended up being killed because their sworn vocation is to defend the Holy Land. Venerating Saladin, who was largely ignored by Arab history until he was reinvented by romantic historians in the 19th century, Sir Ridley was following both Saddam Hussein and Hafez Assad, the former Syrian dictator. Both leaders commissioned huge portraits and statues of Saladin, who was actually a Kurd, to bolster Arab Muslim pride.”

Amin Maalouf, the French historian and author of The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, said: "It does not do any good to distort history, even if you believe you are distorting it in a good way. Cruelty was not on one side but on all."

Ridley Scott has chosen one of the most difficult crusader-eras as a setting for his movie. Many historians have failed to give us a fair and objective view of the events in 1187. The French historian Marion Melville completely misinterpreted the situation in her book “La vie des Templiers” and depicts the Templar Master Gerard of Riderfort as the vilain who influenced the “weak” king Guy of Lusignan. She jumps to conclusions without giving us the sources of her information, fails to consult all the primary sources and adds conversations that may never have taken place. Unfortunately, many historians after here, based their publications upon her work. Even the respected Alain Demurger quotes too often Marion Melville on important issues.


Picture : Loarre Castle in northern Spain is used as the setting of the movie, a replica of Jerusalem has been built in the Moroccan desert.

For extensive historical research, we warmly suggest the book “The Knights Templar – A new History”, by Dr. Helen Nicholson. She follows into the footsteps of the German historian Marie-Luise Bulst-Thiele, and gives us an up-to-date history of the Templars of the heighest level. For further historical research, we can recommend the above-mentioned Riley-Smith, along with Dr. Malcolm Barber of the University of Reading.

More details in our bibliography

Sources :

Edwards C. “Ridley Scott”s new Crusades film ‘panders to Osama bin Laden’, The Telegraph, 18th of January 2004


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