Albigensian Crusade

The Albigensian Crusade (aka Cathars’ Crusade, 1209-1229 CE), was the first crusade to specifically target heretic Christians – the Cathars of southern France. Not successful in repressing the heresy, the on-off campaigns over two decades, led by Simon IV de Montfort, did achieve their real purpose: the political annexation of the Languedoc region, eventually bringing it under the control of the French Crown. The Crusade set a precedent for attacking fellow Christians which would be repeated in Germany, Bosnia and the Baltic regions.

Languedoc & the Cathars

Medieval Languedoc was a region of southern France with its unofficial capital at Toulouse. The literary language there was Occitan, which gave its name to the wider cultural region of southern France, Occitania, of which Languedoc was a part. The Albigensian Crusade directed against this region in the first quarter of the 13th century CE takes its name from Albi, the cathedral city 65 kilometres north-east of Toulouse. Albigensian means ‘from Albi’ but the heretics are more accurately known as the Cathars of Languedoc, even if their first important centre was established at Albi.

The Cathars, with their own churches, bishops & followers of all social classes, were a dangerous threat to the authority of the Catholic Church.

The region of Languedoc was a stronghold of the Cathars, a group of heretics who sought to promote their own ideas regarding the age-old problem of how the Christian God, a Good God, could create a material world which contained evil. Their name derives from katharos, the Greek word for ‘clean’ or ‘pure’ and they probably derived from the more moderate Bogomil heretics of Byzantine Bulgaria. The Cathars, who were also present in Lombardy, the Rhineland and Champagne regions, believed that there were two principles of Good and Evil, a dualist position that was not new and had been promoted by such groups as the 7th century CE Paulicians. The Cathars believed that an evil force (either a fallen angel – Satan – or an eternal evil god) had created the material world while God was responsible for the spiritual world. Humanity must, as a consequence of this evil, find a way to escape their material bodies and join the pure Good of the spiritual world. As the two worlds were entirely separate, the Cathars did not believe that God had appeared on earth as Jesus Christ and had been crucified.

Languedoc Region of France

The Cathars, wary of materialism, lived in isolated communities with the minimum of comforts, although there were two degrees of active participation with one being stricter and its adherents confined to monasteries. The Cathars were by no means the only religious group in the Languedoc region and the Catholic Church was an ever-present fixture of society too, but by the early 13th century CE, it was the Cathars, with their own churches, bishops and followers of all social classes, who posed the most dangerous threat to the authority of the Catholic Church in France. Accordingly, it was this specific group that the Papacy sent an army to deal with between 1178 and 1181 CE. The meagre result of this campaign was a few conversions and promises for reform but, by the first decade of the 1200s CE, it was clear that many of the Languedoc lords were still supporting the Cathars as a less expensive alternative to the tax-loving Catholic authorities. Pope Innocent III (r. 1198-1216 CE), after an unsuccessful preaching campaign by his legates, decided it was time to eradicate the heretics by force. The final straw had been the murder of a Papal legate near Arles in 1208 CE, the deed done by a servant of the most powerful Langeudoc lord, Count Raymond VI of Toulouse (r. 1194-1222 CE).    

Popes & Kings

Pope Innocent III awarded the campaign against heretics Crusade status, which meant that Church funds could be directed towards its fulfilment and those who fought in it were guaranteed a redemption of their sins like the crusaders in the Holy Land. It was the first crusade to specifically target Christians and not Muslims, even though the Fourth Crusade (1202-04 CE), also called by Innocent III, had ended up sacking Christian Constantinople which had not been the initial aim of the Crusade. It was also the first time that the Church called on an international force of warriors to battle heretics; previously such attacks had been conducted only on a local level. The idea of attacking fellow Christians gained ground thanks to such figures as Saint Mary of Oignies who claimed to have had a vision in which Jesus Christ expressed his concern at the heresy in southern France, and Saint Mary even travelled herself to the region. What was needed next was political support to match the ecclesiastical arguments for attacking southern France.

The Crusaders were led by Simon IV de Montfort, a man of experience who had already campaigned with success in the region.

Following an appeal from Innocent III and the excommunication of Raymond VI of Toulouse, the proposed campaign was supported by the French king Philip II (r. 1180-1223 CE) and his son, (the future) Louis VIII (r. 1223-1226 CE) as a means to increase the control of the crown over southern France – at that time a region more in sympathy with the kingdoms of eastern Spain. Indeed, the Cathars were only present in a small area of southern France so that a religious justification for the campaigns was perhaps only really an excuse in the process of forming the kingdom of France and giving its king direct access to the Mediterranean. Accordingly, with the backing of the Church and Crown, and the promise that the lands of defeated barons would be confiscated, taxes were raised in northern and central France and an army assembled in 1209 CE. Although the French king was too preoccupied with his rivalry with King John of England (r. 1199-1216 CE), he did supply a royal contingent and there were such noted leaders as Simon IV de Montfort and Leopold VI, Duke of Austria (r. 1198-1230 CE).

War: Simon de Montfort

As the Crusader army left Lyons and moved down the Rhône River in July 1209 CE the first snag was encountered. Raymond of Toulouse, the figurehead of the enemy at least in propaganda terms, had opened up negotiations with the Pope and, after a suitable penance and giving up a spot of land, he joined the Crusader army as an ally. Accordingly, the first target of the crusaders was to attack not Toulouse but the area around Albi controlled by Raymond Roger Trencavel in 1209 CE. Trencavel was not a heretic but his lands contained a good many of them. The Crusaders were led by Simon IV de Montfort, a man of experience who had already campaigned with success in the region two years previously against the armies of Raymond of Toulouse. Now Simon had the Church’s backing for his ambitious conquest. Besides the armies of nobles and knights on both sides, there were, too, local militias, the White Confraternity against the heretics and the Black Confraternity supporting the local barons.

Pope Innocent III & the Albigensian Crusade

Ultimately, the weak political unity of the southern lords and their own tradition of fierce independence meant that the Crusader army won victory after victory, even if the latter had its own problems in keeping men in the field for what seemed little gain for themselves except a spiritual one. Indeed, the Pope had to insist that only a minimum 40-day military service would ensure a full remission of sins by participants. The campaign was, thus, sporadic and brutal. It became a long-drawn-out affair characterised by lengthy sieges not helped by a chronic lack of money on the part of De Montfort, and the slipping away of crusaders every 40 days. 

Béziers’ inhabitanTs, around 10,000 people, were infamously slaughtered in cold blood by the Crusaders.

The first major action was when Raymond Roger Trencavel abandoned Béziers on 21 July 1209 CE. The city was besieged by the crusaders anyway and, after the offer of a truce if any heretics were handed over was rejected, the city was ruthlessly sacked. The city’s inhabitants, around 10,000 people, were slaughtered in cold blood. The city had probably only had some 700 heretics and it was now clear to all that this was a campaign of conquest, not conversion. Such was the shock of the massacre that the city of Narbonne surrendered immediately and locals fled any castles and towns likely to be the next target of a crusader attack. The mighty castle of Carcassonne fell on 14 August 1209 CE and Trencavel was put in a prison from which he would not escape alive. Simon de Montfort took over Trencavel’s lands.

More atrocities would follow on both sides. When Lavaur was captured by De Montfort in 1211 CE Aimery, the lord of Lavaur and Montréal, was hanged, his sister was thrown into a well, 80 of his knights were executed and up to 400 Cathars were burned to death. For captured heretics, a trial and death by fire was their usual fate. Significantly, though, many of the crusader targets were not Cathar strongholds. The whole region developed into a perpetual war zone with a consequent collapse in the rule of law and social order. In 1211 CE the crisis deepened when Raymond of Toulouse decided the crusaders were making too many demands on his territory and he made himself enemy number one again by going independent once more.

After defeating a Toulouse-Foix army at Castelnaudary in September 1211 CE, De Montfort captured large areas of the south in 1212 CE. Raymond, meanwhile temporarily fled to England. Although northern France was instigating plans of government in the region, by 1213 CE guerrilla warfare had spread everywhere in the south. The massacres, burnings and mutilations continued whenever a town or castle was captured. As a consequence, the Pope cancelled the Crusade status of the campaign but it would be given again, albeit sporadically over the next 15 years. In 1214 CE the turmoil even brought foreign kings sniffing with interest at the choicest lands as they became available, notably the King of Aragon and King John of England who still had lands in France.

Expulsion of the Cathars from Carcassonne

By 1215 CE the conquest of the County of Toulouse and the Pyrenean counties was complete and Crown Prince Louis even did a tour with an army that never did any battle. Then there came a local fightback, the defenders being greatly helped by the return of Raymond to his stronghold at Toulouse in 1217 CE. The Crusade was dealt another blow with the death of De Montfort during the siege of that city in June 1218 CE; he was killed instantly when he was hit by a boulder fired from a mangonel catapult. Louis took over De Montfort’s territorial claims and made another brief appearance in the south, capturing Marmande in June 1219 CE.

The war rumbled on at a local level, now primarily conducted by allies of Toulouse and those barons who had gained their lands from De Montfort. Raymond of Toulouse died in 1222 CE and he was succeeded by his son Raymond  VII (r. 1222-1249 CE), who reclaimed much of his father’s old lands and even Carcassonne in 1224 CE. Louis, now king Louis VIII after his father’s death in 1223 CE, was determined to expand his kingdom, though, and with the backing of Pope Honorius III (r. 1216-1227 CE), another crusade was launched with all the Papal trimmings. Avignon was besieged and captured in the summer of 1226 CE. Realising the inevitable, most Languedoc lords swore homage to the king but Raymond VII held out. Then, returning to Paris in November 1226 CE, Louis VIII died of dysentery.

The new king of France, Louis IX (r. 1226-1270 CE), would turn out to be one of the most committed of all medieval Crusader kings and so the Albigensian campaign was an ideal tester for the religious zeal that would eventually earn him sainthood. A series of victories came in the next two years and Raymond VII of Toulouse agreed terms of surrender. The Albigensian Crusade thus came to a final conclusion with the Treaty of Paris in 1229 CE. The Languedoc region was now part of the Kingdom of France.


The campaigns had dramatically reduced the wealth and power of the Languedoc nobility and the re-shaping of the royal political map was nicely completed when Raymond VII’s estates passed on to his heir, Alphonse of Poitiers, brother of Louis IX, in 1249 CE. The Cathars, meanwhile, were not wiped out and their churches and institutions continued in the region, albeit on a reduced scale. An Inquisition was launched but its aim was to convert through argument, not violence; one of its effects being the establishment of a university at Toulouse in 1229 CE. This intellectual approach was slower but far more successful than the Crusades and by the first quarter of 14th century CE the Cathars ceased to exist as an organised and distinct body of believers.

Reflecting the ambiguity of the Albigensian Crusade and the uncomfortable truth of Christians fighting Christians, some popular songs of the period criticised the Popes for granting the campaign a Crusade status and its participants a remission of sins. For example, as Guilhem Figueira’s 13th century CE sirventes song goes:

Rome, in truth I know, without a doubt, that with the fraud of a false pardon you delivered up the barons of France to torment far from Paradise, and, Rome, you killed the good king of France by luring him far away from Paris with your false preaching. (quoted in Riley-Smith, 111) 

There has also developed a certain nostalgia and historical myth-making regarding the Albigensian Crusade with southern French people sometimes using the episode as an example of their cultural independence from an overbearing northern France epitomised by the central government in Paris. The heretics have also appealed to the modern mind with their vegetarianism and improved role for women but these facets of culture are to ignore the fact that there were atrocities and bigotry on both sides during the Crusade which began the process of western Christians fighting each other, a situation that would blight European politics and society for centuries thereafter.   

This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.


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Interview: The Ancient Southwest (Dr. Steve Lekson)

Pre-Columbian civilizations of the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico include the Hohokam who occupied the US state of Arizona, the Anasazi or Ancestral Pueblo Peoples who resided in the Four Corners Region, and the Mogollon who inhabited southern New Mexico and northern portions of Chihuahua in Mexico. These cultures flourished for hundreds of years before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century CE. They each left an indelible cultural imprint upon the region, which endures today. Nonetheless, their impressive achievements in the domains of art, architecture, and engineering remain too often underappreciated and little studied even in the United States.

Wupatki Pueblo

In this exclusive interview, Ancient History Encyclopedia’s Communications Director, James Blake Wiener, speaks to Professor Steven Lekson of the University of Colorado Boulder on the importance of the wider interconnections within the ancient cultures of Oasisamerica in addition to the state of research in the field of Southwestern archaeology.

JBW: Professor Lekson, it is a real privilege to welcome you to AHE, and I thank you for speaking with me about the ancient cultures of the Southwestern United States.

The general public seems to know relatively little about the Ancestral Puebloans who dominated the Four Corners Region between c. 900-1300 CE. Could you tell us more about the recent discoveries and the research that is currently undertaken? Which among the new discoveries do you find critical or crucial in helping us establish the rise, fall, and everyday life of the Ancestral Puebloans?

SL: Perhaps the most important new development in our understanding of the Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi) peoples of the Four Corners (the area around the joint corners of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico) is the pivotal role of Chaco Canyon, the 11th-century CE regional center in northwestern New Mexico. Chaco Canyon is the site of a half-dozen Great Houses – monumental sandstone structures of up to 500 rooms, that rose up to five stories and covered over one hectare of area. 

For many years Great Houses were considered exceptionally nice farming villages, but it is becoming more and more likely that they were palaces for a nobility that ruled over up to 60,000 commoners, in a region of 100,000 square kilometers, encompassing such famous sites as Mesa Verde, Hovenweep, and Canyon de Chelly. Recent research shows that vast quantities of goods were brought into Chaco Canyon, the capital, even from a great distance and the central noble family of Pueblo Bonito (the largest of the palaces) was a matrilineal dynasty that lasted several centuries.

Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon

Modern Pueblo people are descendants of Chaco and Mesa Verde, but they conspicuously avoid the kinds of hierarchies and wealth and social class evident at Chaco. Pueblos are famously egalitarian – they have no nobles, kings or capital city. It is likely that the unique Pueblo social structures arose in reaction and rejection of the hierarchies of Chaco, which ended badly. About 1090 CE, the capital shifted north to Aztec Ruins National Monument, but the new capital could not maintain the peace and prosperity of Chaco’s reign. Droughts and violence led ultimately to the abandonment of the Four Corners region by tens of thousands of Ancestral Pueblo people; most of whom moved to join the modern Pueblos, from the Hopi Pueblos in Arizona on the west, through Zuni and Acoma, to the many Pueblos of the Rio Grande in New Mexico in the east. Chaco’s nobles may have moved south toward fellow nobles in Mesoamerica, and helped to found Paquimé (Casas Grandes), the Southwest’s last great city.

JBW: The Hohokam, who lived in present-day Arizona, distinguish themselves from their neighbors by virtue of the longevity of their culture. The Hohokam constructed impressive settlements, sophisticated irrigation canals, and even built ritual ball-courts that mirror those found in Mesoamerica. Is there evidence of significant cultural or material exchange between the Hohokam and the Ancestral Puebloans, and how should we characterize their unique role and legacy in the Southwest?

SL: Hohokam civilization comes into focus around 500 CE; they prospered along the major rivers of the deserts of southern Arizona, 500 km from the Four Corners and Chaco Canyon. At Chaco and throughout the Four Corners, rainfall farming was (barely) possible, but in the Hohokam deserts – with far less precipitation – farming absolutely required irrigation. Huge canal systems on the Salt and Gila rivers (channeling waters from the Mogollon uplands) underwrote its thousand-year history.

Hohokam houses were one-room mud-and-thatch structures, rising from a slightly sunken floor (“pit houses” or “houses-in-pits”). Three or four of these house structures faced into a small shared patio; a dozen or more of these patio groups formed a village segment, often with its own cemetery; and multiple village segments surrounded a large public central plaza. On the edge of the settlement were one or two oval ball-courts, different from the rectangular or “I”-shaped ball-courts of Mesoamerica.

Unlike the black-on-white pottery of Ancestral Pueblo peoples, Hohokam pottery was red-on-buff, with reddish-brown painted designs on a light tan or buff background. Other aspects of Hohokam material culture were equally characteristic: a well-developed industry of shell jewelry manufacture, elaborate sculpting of stone vessels, and brilliant weaving of Hohokam-grown cotton.

Obviously, the Southwest’s two biggest cultures of the 9th-12th century CE knew each other, but there is little material evidence of sustained interaction.

Hohokam peaked at about 900 CE, but after 1000 CE, it shrank back into its original core area in the Phoenix Basin. Ball-courts, previously the center of civic life, were no longer built or even used. A new form of public architecture appeared; platform mounds. These rectangular earth-filled structures reached sizes of 50 m by 95 m, standing over 7 m tall. On the flat upper surface of these mounds stood the substantial adobe homes of a new Hohokam leadership – prior to the platform mounds, archaeology has not revealed any evidence of an elite. The new regime was marked by new pottery: a striking, colorful new type, Gila polychrome, appeared in large quantities alongside the older types. The great civilization ended around 1450 CE, perhaps in a class revolt of the commoners against the platform mound rulers (as recalled in Native stories).

Obviously, the Southwest’s two biggest cultures of the 9th-12th century CE knew each other. The timing of their respective histories – Chaco’s burst of major building commenced about 1020 CE while Hohokam’s decline began about 1000 CE – suggests a historical linkage, but there is little material evidence of sustained interaction. It is only in higher-value, lower-quantity artifact classes that hints appear: Hohokam shell jewelry, a Hohokam cotton garment, and other things of that nature appear at Chaco Canyon. Inter-elite exchange would probably be marked by precious materials that seldom survive: cotton, cacao, macaw feathers, or by exchange of marriage partners.

JBW: The Mimbres people were a subculture of the Mogollon, occupying southern New Mexico and the northern part of Chihuahua in Mexico. In your lectures, you have previously described them as a cultural weathervane. How has our knowledge of the mysterious Mimbres culture increased in recent years? 

SL: The history of Hohokam and Chaco registered dramatically on a third contemporary, the Mimbres societies of southwestern New Mexico. Famed for their artistry on black-on-white pottery, Mimbres was sufficiently distinct to merit a third cultural designation, nominally equal to its contemporaries Chaco and Hohokam, an Anasazi/Ancestral lifestyle on a Hohokam infrastructure. Mimbres began around 500 CE with pit-houses, rather like Hohokam structures in plan but far deeper sunken floors. Around 1000 CE, Mimbres made a sudden and dramatic shift from deep pit-houses to above-ground stone-masonry pueblos. They flourished until c. 1150 CE, when Chaco ended and Mimbres collapsed simultaneously.

Mimbres Ceramic Vessel

When Hohokam was roaring strong, Mimbres looked west and shared red-on-buff/brown pottery styles, cremation burials, shell jewelry, and canal irrigation – all Hohokam emblems – but not, as far as we know, Hohokam’s ball-courts. When Hohokam retrenched back into Phoenix while Chaco expanded into most of the Four Corners, Mimbres turned away from Hohokam to the west, to the rising power in the north. Pit-houses turned into stone pueblos, red-on-brown pottery was replaced by black-on-white of sudden and surprising excellence and quality. While Mimbres was interesting in its own right, it also serves as a gigantic weathervane of ancient Southwestern geopolitics: pointing to the west from 700 to 1000 CE when Hohokam was at its peak, and then swinging north towards Chaco from 1000 to 1150 CE, as Hohokam faltered and Chaco boomed.

JBW: I cannot complete this interview without at least one question about the city of Casas Grandes or Paquimé. It was the last major city in the Southwest to emerge before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century CE, but it is located in Chihuahua, Mexico, rather than the United States. Professor Lekson, would it be fair to say that Casas Grandes was the heir of the Ancestral Puebloans, the Mimbres, and the Hohokam? How would you characterize Casas Grandes’ importance in the history of the Southwest, and what circumstances led to its sharp rise and sudden collapse between c. 1250-1450 CE?

SL: Evidence from both art history and biological archaeology links Mimbres (which collapsed 1150 CE) with the great city of Paquimé (which rose about 1300 CE). The missing 150 years between collapse and rise played out in apparently short-lived but (sometimes) large adobe pueblos scattered across the low deserts where the Mimbres River disappears in the desert, trickling into the sands of southernmost New Mexico and northernmost Chihuahua.   

The Rio Casas Grandes flows out of the Sierra Madre uplands, and in recent times its waters – flowing through extensive canals – made the arid region the breadbasket of modern northern Mexico. So, too, in ancient times: Paquimé tapped the river with long canals, echoing the larger Hohokam irrigation system; in addition, extensive check-dams and mulch fields allowed rainfall farming on the higher plains, away from the river.

Paquimé was the center and almost certainly the capital of a region comparable to Chaco’s. There is evidence that at least some of the noble families from failed Chaco played a role in Paquimé’s rise. Those Chaco families had ruled a diminishing realm from Aztec Ruins from 1150-1280 CE; the city of Paquimé was planned and built around 1300 CE. Key architectural elements unique to Chaco and Aztec also appear at Paquimé, and the burial modes of Paquimé’s elites echo those of Chaco Canyon.

Casas Grandes, Mexico

Paquimé was the last great Southwestern city and the most cosmopolitan where the Southwest and Mesoamerica finally met and for a brief time – 150 years – flourished. Classic Mesoamerican I-shaped ball-courts stood outside pueblo-like multi-storied houses and warehouses, entered via characteristically Chacoan T-shaped doors. Remarkable quantities of southern imports were stored alongside stacks of distinctive late Gila polychrome Hohokam bowls. Indeed, a local version of Gila polychrome was common; but Paquimé’s “signature” ceramic was Ramos polychrome – a striking art form which owed much to earlier Mimbres traditions, but which depicted Mesoamerican deities among other things. 

Paquimé ends, mysteriously, around 1450 CE, the same time that late Hohokam collapsed. Hohokam and Paquimé were peers and perhaps rivals; their simultaneous endings were surely historically linked, in ways opaque to us. The simultaneous rise-and-fall of Chaco and Mimbres, and the mutual collapse of late Hohokam and Paquimé probably reflect, in part, climate shifts, but these societies were far more than pawns of their environment. They could and did muster massive amounts of labor to construct extensive irrigation canals, controlling the harsh desert environment and raised major monuments. Societies could and did rise far above the apparent limitations of their environment, and create small yet colorful civilizations.

JBW: The Salado Culture‘s appearance and disappearance is yet another mystery in the ancient Southwest. They were well-known for their pottery, which was prized throughout the region. What else do we know about the Salado Culture, though? 

SL: The striking Gila polychrome (red, white and black) pottery characteristic of later Hohokam (1300 to 1450 CE) is found far beyond the Hohokam heartland. Gila polychrome was one of several types of polychrome pottery, together called “Salado” after the Salt River which runs through the Phoenix Basin. While we associate Gila polychrome with late Hohokam, the Salado polychromes originated not in the Hohokam heartland but rather in the Mogollon Uplands to the north and then fully developed on the upper Gila and Salt rivers to the east. Salado polychromes then spread over a huge area (including the old Hohokam core). 

The colorful types constituted small but significant proportions of ceramics across a range of cultures in an area of 500 x 600 km. This area encompassed a half-dozen different local ceramic traditions. Remarkably, Salado polychrome pottery appears to be almost always locally made; that is, the clays used to make Salado polychromes were the same clays used for local ceramics. This is a puzzle: the designs are quite distinctive and unmistakable, but the pottery was not being produced in one place and exchanged out across the vast region. 

Salado Polychrome Jar

The proportions of Gila and other Salado polychromes at sites varied. Sites with predominately Salado pottery were mostly on the upper Gila and upper Salt rivers – east of the Hohokam core – and in the uplands immediately north of these valleys. It was in the uplands that Salado pottery probably began. Sizable numbers of Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi) migrants from northeastern Arizona entered the upper Salt and upper Gila drainages in the late 12th and 13th centuries CE. Living initially in enclaves among the local Hohokam-leaning populations, the Ancestral Pueblo immigrants mixed rapidly with the local peoples to create a hybrid society, and with it the Salado polychrome tradition.

Salado sites on the upper Salt had platform mounds, and in many other ways mirrored the Phoenix Basin Hohokam. The Salt River Salado sites fell at the same time as Hohokam, about 1450 CE. Salado sites on the upper Gila lacked platform mounds and in fact looked much more like northern “pueblos.” One of the last and largest Salado “pueblos” was Kwilleylekia, on the uppermost Gila River. Based on the pottery found there, Kwilleylekia may have lasted until c. 1500 CE, if not later. Intriguingly, one 16th-century CE cemetery at an ancestral Zuni Pueblo site, 200 km to the north, contained many graves with Gila polychrome offerings.  

SL: In your works and lectures, you emphasize the continental interconnectedness of the ancient cultures in the desert Southwest to the civilizations of Mesoamerica and the Mississippian culture. Why should scholars and archaeologists approach the study of the ancient Southwest through a continental prism? 

SL: American archaeology has been very sectional, divided and even provincial, but from the onset of human colonization of the Americas, ancient histories were continental in scope. As history progressed, ancient Americans regionalized, but we should not think that localized material culture meant ignorance of the continental contexts. Chaco Canyon and the Southwest clearly knew about Cahokia and the Mississippi Valley. Much later, in 1540 CE, this was made clear when conquistadors were in search of cities and their native guides knew where to find them. 

Coronado was disappointed in the Pueblos, but the Pueblos knew that across the Plains there had once been Cahokia – a monumental city of more than 20,000 people. De Soto wanted something bigger than the thatched towns of the Southeast; his guides knew that far to the west there had once been Chaco. The two expeditions – both launched in 1540 CE – almost met in the middle, near Spiro Mounds. Ten years earlier, another conquistador Nuño de Guzmán, sought cities from the south. Native guides led his army due north from Culiacán, and although he eventually turned back, the northern route would have led him straight to Paquimé – long gone, but apparently not forgotten. In the 16th century CE, Paquimé was gone for over 100 years, and Chaco and Cahokia for almost 500 years, but apparently, with indigenous ideas about time, they were still remembered as cities.

Paquimé was gone for over 100 years, and Chaco and Cahokia for almost 500 years, but apparently, with indigenous ideas about time, they were still remembered as cities.

Recent research has shown us that ritually-charged “black drink” – a highly-caffeinated tea made from a plant that grows only along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico – was drunk at Chaco (and Cahokia). Recent research identified 14,000 small shells (intended for beadwork) at a famous Mississippian site, Spiro Mounds, as coming from the California Coast. Even more recently, I identified a southwestern “lace” textile at Spiro. Again, inter-elite communication with precious (and mostly) perishable rarities: tea, shell, cotton, etc.

It is important to situate the ancient Southwest in its continental context; the border between the USA and Mexico was not there a thousand years ago. Chaco Canyon is often described as a mystery because no model from ethnology or ethnohistory “fits” Chaco, but that is not true if we look across the national border. A well-known model of small-scale city-state polities from Nahua ethnohistory fits Chaco like a glove, but our narrow provincial focus had prevented us from looking beyond our borders.

JBW: I am curious to know what it was that first sparked your interest in the ancient Southwest and ultimately led you to devote your life to studying the Mogollon and Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) in particular? Why do you believe others ought to study the ancient Southwest, too, and what lessons can we draw from their successes and failures?

I am an accidental Southwesternist. Entering college, I thought I might become a Classical archaeologist, but a faculty advisor advised me instead to study anthropology and excavate Indian mounds. I was on a path to being a Mississippi Valley archaeologist when I joined an archaeology project in southwestern New Mexico. In the Mississippi valley and US Southeast, the heat and humidity are oppressive; ticks and chiggers and mosquitoes are everywhere; and there are a variety of poisonous snakes, some of which were alarmingly aggressive. The Southwest was wonderfully arid; its insects few and far between; and the only reptiles worth worrying about rattled to show their presence and are, in fact, rather timid. On my New Mexico dig, I saw, for the first time in my life, the Milky Way. Southwestern skies and lands are magical!

Kin Kletso, Chaco Canyon

So I became a Southwestern archaeologist. There are many things of possible global interest in the Southwest (very early agriculture, for example) but I have focused on the origins and operations of government. In Chaco, for example, I think we have an excellent example of a secondary city-state: a state formed in consequence of earlier, larger political entities. Ancient city-states and secondary states are global phenomena, they occur (almost) everywhere. Chaco should contribute to their study, because of its remarkable preservation, its precise tree-ring dating, and the considerable amount of money and energy invested in Chacoan archaeology for over a century.

Too often the Southwest is held up as an example of environmental restriction, but for 1,000 years, Hohokam civilization flourished in the region’s fiercest deserts, and continuous political history linked Chaco and its successor capitals, culminating in Paquimé. The collapse of ancient societies are worth our attention, but their successes should also be studied and celebrated.

JBW: Professor Lekson, what is the one question about the ancient Southwest that you would like answered sooner rather than later? 

SL: To me, the most interesting big question in southwestern archaeology is something fairly new: the Early Agricultural Period of southern Arizona, which was completely unknown until salvage archaeology in the late 1980s CE. Substantial villages of small pit-houses appeared as early as 1200 BCE along the tributaries of the Gila River. These villages were supported by small canals diverting water onto fields; the canals were smaller than the later Hohokam systems, but the irrigation was very extensive and quite sophisticated. The subsequent career of the Early Agricultural Period is murky: did it survive to become Hohokam, or was it a flash-in-the-pan?

The Early Agricultural Period was contemporary with Olmec and also with the remarkable monumental center of Poverty Point on the lower Mississippi River, which rose and fell together, more-or-less simultaneously. This is not to place the modest Early Agricultural Period on the same level as mighty Olmec, but the timing is interesting. My question is what was going on in the Southwest and in North America around 1200 BCE.

Dr. Steve Lekson an archaeologist and professor, working in the US Southwest. Most of his fieldwork has been in the Mogollon and Anasazi (Ancestral Pueblo) regions, but he has also dabbled in Hohokam, Casas Grandes, Jornada, and Rio Grande areas. His principal interests are human geography, built environments, and government; but his current research projects have more to do with migrations (Pinnacle Ruin, in southern New Mexico) and household archaeology (Yellow Jacket, in southwestern Colorado). Dr. Lekson is also interested in museums (he’s the Curator of Anthropology at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History) and archaeology’s role in American and global intellectual life.

This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.

The Stained Glass Windows of Chartres Cathedral

The 167 stained glass windows of Chartres Cathedral, built 1190-1220 CE, are the most complete group surviving anywhere from the Middle Ages. Several windows date to the mid-12th century CE while over 150 survive from the early 13th century CE. There are religious scenes to tell the faithful the key stories of the Bible as well as countless depictions of saints, kings, queens, nobles, knights, and priests. The city’s merchants donated 42 windows to the cathedral, and they crop up in many smaller scenes showing the full range of medieval professions from barrel-makers to butchers.

Detail, North Rose Window, Chartres

Medieval Stained Glass

The technique of staining glass for windows using metal oxides dates back to at least the 7th century CE and the churches of the Byzantine Empire. However, the craft really became a refined art in the 12th and 13th centuries CE. The five main colours used to ‘stain’ glass were bright ruby red, which came from copper oxide, sapphire blue from cobalt oxide, green from iron oxide, yellow from sulphur or soot, and purple from manganese oxide. These materials were added to the glass while it was being heated, but because the result proved too opaque to allow much light through, often a thin layer of coloured glass was laid on top of a thicker pane of transparent or white glass. Painted on the interior side of the glass, details of scenes were rendered using a mixture of glass fillings, metal oxides, and vinegar or urine. The paint was then permanently fused onto the glass by putting the pieces into a kiln.

A single window at Chartres may include over 50 individual panels of stained glass.

Individual pieces of stained and painted glass were specially cut according to a design chalked out beforehand on a wooden board and then inserted into lead borders to make a single composite panel. The finished panel was then mounted into the metal armature of the window frame using dowels and metal strips. A single tall lancet window at Chartres may include over 50 such panels of all shapes and sizes. 

Not only decorative, the windows were also intended as a pictorial guide to the Gospel message in an era when few could read. Consequently, the wages of sin, the benefits of salvation, and the lives of the most important saints and biblical figures are shown as a lesson to all. Most windows, when they tell a narrative such as the life of an apostle or Bible parable, should be read from left to right starting at the base. Four-leafed rosette or quatrefoil panels are read by looking first at the bottom leaf, then the left, centre, and right leaf, and finally the top leaf. Following are descriptions of only some of the most important and striking windows in Chartres cathedral.

Winemakers, Zodiac Window Chartres

The North Rose Window

This window, with a diameter of 10.15 metres, dates to c. 1231 CE and has the theme of the Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled with Mary as their instrument, hence the central panel depicts Jesus Christ as a child with Mary. This centrepiece is encircled by 12 elliptical panels showing four doves and eight angels. Then a circle of 12 diamond-shaped panels depict the 12 kings of Judah, Christ’s ancestors. The outer ring of semi-circular panels shows the 12 minor prophets. Between the squares and semi-circles are quatrefoil panels with fleurs-de-lis, the French royal coat of arms and reminding that the window was donated by Queen Blanche of Castille, the mother of King Louis IX (r. 1226-1270 CE) and his regent from 1226 to 1236 CE. The panels between the rose and lancet windows below repeat the fleur-de-lis theme and add the arms of Castille, a yellow castle on a red background.

North Rose Window, Chartres Cathedral

The lancet windows below the rose show Saint Anne in the centre and various kings mentioned in the Old Testament such as Saul (stabbing himself with his sword), David (playing the harp), and Solomon, as well as the traditional baddies of Nebuchadnezzar II, the idolater of Babylon, and the Egyptian Pharaoh who unwisely chased Moses through the Red Sea.

The South Rose Window

This window, with a diameter of 10.56 metres, dates to c. 1224 CE and the central panel depicts Jesus Christ as the judge of the Apocalypse. Surrounding this panel are 12 elliptical panels, eight of which have an angel and the other four the symbols of the four evangelists. The next ring of circular panels and the outer ring of 12 semi-circular panels all show the 24 elders of Apocalypse, all holding various medieval musical instruments. The small quatrefoil panels show the blue and yellow arms of Dreux and Brittany, home of the window’s donators, Count Pierre Mauclerc and his wife Alix de Bretagne.

South Rose Window, Chartres Cathedral

The arms of Dreux and Brittany are repeated in the central window of the five lancets below the rose window. These lancet windows show Mary holding the infant Jesus in the centre and two Old Testament prophets either side, each with a New Testament evangelist on their shoulders (left to right: Jeremiah and Saint Luke, Isaiah and Saint Matthew, Ezekiel and Saint John, and Daniel and Saint Mark). The imagery perhaps reminds that the evangelists, having known Christ personally, could see rather better into the future than the older prophets. 

The West Rose Window

The West Rose window is the largest of the cathedral’s three rose windows, measuring 15.42 metres in diameter. It dates to c. 1215 CE and depicts scenes from the Last Judgement with Jesus Christ, represented as the judge of humanity, dominating the central panel. The position of the window was itself symbolic; set in the west-facing wall it catches the soft light of the setting sun at the end of the day, and so mimics the end of time subject of the window’s scenes.

West Rose Window, Chartres Cathedral

Radiating out from the central panel are three rings of circular panels. The first ring shows eight angels and four apocalyptic animals, each of which represents four of the apostles: a lion for Saint Mark, an ox for Saint Luke, an eagle for Saint John, and a winged man for Saint Matthew. The second ring of panels, linked to the first ring by elliptical forms, and numbering 12, shows pairs of apostles and the 12 tribes. The third and outer ring of circular panels, again numbering 12, shows the instruments of Christ’s passion, angels blowing trumpets to announce the Day of Judgement and resurrected bodies wearing shrouds who await the decision on their fate. Two panels reveal what happens to the unrepentant sinner with Saint Michael weighing good deeds against bad on his scales and pitchfork-wielding devils pushing people towards Hell, including one miser still with his money bag dangling from his neck.    

The Blue Virgin Window

One of the oldest windows in the cathedral (or at least the central four panels of it are), is the Blue Virgin window, also known as the Notre Dame de la Belle Verrière window. This window, located under the West Rose, belongs to the version of the cathedral before the devastating fire of 1194 CE. The central panels show a seated Mary with baby Jesus on her lap, she sits on a throne, wears a crown and blue robe, and has a blue halo. The surrounding panels show six angels and date to the 13th century CE. The lower part of the window shows scenes from Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine at the marriage feast of Cana and the three temptations of Christ.

Blue Virgin Window, Chartres Cathedral

The Incarnation Window

This window is one of three lancet windows set above the Royal Portal or West Porch of the cathedral. Dating to the mid-12th century CE, it has 27 main panels which alternate scenes set within a square or circle. The first (bottom) scenes show Christ’s birth and the coming of the Magi and shepherds. There are striking scenes of the Massacre of the Innocents ordered by King Herod and the fleeing of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to Egypt. The cycle ends with Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

The Passion & Resurrection Window

This lancet window is next to the Incarnation Window whose story it continues. It also dates to c. 1150 CE. The window boasts 14 circular scenes from the final moments of Jesus Christ’s life such as the washing of the disciples’ feet, the Last Supper, crucifixion, and Resurrection. The lower left panel with a mandala and shafts of light reveal an influence from Byzantine Art.

Detail, Noah Window, Chartres

The Noah Window

Dating to c. 1210 CE, this window, located immediately on the left after entering the Royal Portal, has 42 panels which show scenes from the Noah story. Panels show animals arriving to be placed on the Ark, the Great Flood and the Ark itself, here represented with architectural features such as columns, capitals, and arches in keeping with its role as a symbol for the Church itself and its function as a saviour and place of refuge. In a further extension of the analogy, six panels show drowning people who represent lost souls on their way to Hell. One panel shows Noah and Saint Lubin, the 6th-century CE bishop of Chartres and patron saint of the local innkeepers and wine merchants who were amongst the window’s donators, along with the city’s carpenters, coopers and wheelwrights. The five lowest panels show scenes of these craftsmen at work.

The Good Samaritan Window

With scenes from the parable of the Good Samaritan, this window, located on the right after entering the Royal Portal, has 24 narrative panels, 10 purely decorative ones, and 29 border panels. Thieves are shown attacking a lone traveller, representative of humanity’s fall from grace and, just as Adam and Eve must leave Paradise (one panel is dedicated to the pair), so too the traveller leaves Jerusalem and immediately he must face the challenges of the world and sin (the robbers). The Good Samaritan who comes to the rescue represents Jesus, who takes the man to an inn and promises to return to pay the bill, a reference to the Second Coming on Judgement Day.   

Detail, Good Samaritan Window, Chartres Cathedral

The Zodiac Window

The Zodiac window, located just after the South Porch towards the vestry, has agricultural scenes and 12 signs of the Zodiac to represent Time, each labour being associated with the typical period of the year in which it was performed, for example, Virgo (August-September) is next to wine pressing. January is represented with three heads, symbolic of the month spanning the past year, the present and the new year.

The top panel shows Jesus Christ between the Greek letters alpha and omega, the first and last of that alphabet and representing his role as the creator and last judge of humanity. The window was donated by Count Thibault VI of Champagne on the request of Thomas, Count of Perche. The latter was killed at the Battle of Lincoln in 1217 CE, so we know the window must have been made before that time.

The Charlemagne Window

Showing scenes from the life of Charlemagne, Holy Roman Emperor (r. 800-814 CE), this window, located on the left side of the vestry between the apsidal chapels, was donated by the furriers of Chartres who appear in the lower left panel. There are several battle scenes with knights in armour and one showing the emperor jousting. The enemy is the infidels of Moorish Spain, who have round shields as opposed to the kite-shaped ones of the western knights.

This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.

Fish Sauce in the Ancient World

The production and trade of fish sauce in the ancient world was a significant and widespread industry, stretching from Britain to the Black Sea. Roman fish sauce, known as garum, was one of the most popular and commonly used ingredients in the Roman pantry. Some historians have even argued that fish sauce, common throughout Southeast Asia today, was introduced to the continental subregion via the Silk Road.

The origins of fish sauce

Not much is known about the earliest fish sauces in Europe. The first recorded fish sauce was produced by the ancient Greeks along the coastline of the Black Sea. The abundant fishery resources of the region may have been a significant factor in Greek colonisation of the area, even as early as the 7th century BCE. Called gàros, it was made by fermenting small fish with salt which produced an amber-coloured liquid.

Roman Fish Mosaic, Tarraco

The Carthaginians were also early makers and traders of fish sauce, producing it along the coast of the Lake of Tunis, in modern day Tunisia. A Punic shipwreck from 5th century BCE, found off the coast of Ibiza, may have been carrying a cargo of fish sauce stored in amphorae made in Gades (modern day Spain) and Tingi (modern-day Morocco). There are many early Graeco-Roman literary references to fish sauce, from writers such as Aristophanes, Sophocles and Aeschylus. The numerous casual mentions suggest it was a commonplace ingredient in the ancient Mediterranean.

Fish sauce in ancient Rome

The Roman version of fish sauce was called garum. Many believe it originated from the Greek gàros as contemporary accounts suggest they had many similarities, notably their pungent smell. But they may have been composed of different kinds of fish and manufactured in distinct ways.

Pliny said that garum was ‘blended to the colour of old honey wine’.

The Romans had a number of different varieties, including garum, liquamen, muria, allec and haimation. It can be hard to differentiate between the different kinds as the names were used interchangeably. Liquamen, for example, became a catch-all term for any fish sauce, though was also used as a specific term for a fish sauce made from the whole fish.

Below are definitions for the main Roman fish sauces:

  • Garum – The term is often used to describe all Roman fish sauces. It may come from the Greek, gàros. Garum began as an elite food made from fish blood and could be extremely expensive. Pliny said that garum was ‘blended to the colour of old honey wine’ (Walker, 300).
  • Liquamen – Another general term for fish sauce. Translating as ‘liquid mixture’, Pliny described it as the sediment of garum. It is believed to have had a lower status than garum and might have been used to extend salt supplies. The fish sauce industry was called liquaminarium and a dealer in fish sauce a liquaminarius. Liquamen was made primarily with sardines, herring, shad and eel.
  • Muria – Muria was the brine filtered out after salting the fish and was usually made from tunny.
  • Allec – More of a paste than sauce allec was made from leftover sediment. It contained bones and other parts of the fish that did not rot.
  • Haimation – A type of garum, this was the highest quality fish sauce and therefore mainly for wealthier citizens. Haimation, or ‘blood sauce’, was often made from the blood and guts of tunny.

Roman Fish Mosaic, Como

Broadly speaking, Roman fish sauces were made by mixing fish blood, guts and heads with large quantities of sea salt. The mixture was then left to ferment for varying amounts of time. According to Pliny, garum could be made with a variety of fish or shellfish, including maena, murena, tunny, mullet, oysters, and sea urchins, although mackerel was the most popular.


Garum was popular with every level of Roman society for a number of reasons. It was an important way of preserving fish, which spoiled easily once dead. By adding salt to fish and leaving it to ferment, the growth of mould was prevented, extending the shelf life considerably. It also provided a valuable source of protein and nutrients, especially to the poor. More importantly, however, was a love of the salty, umami taste. According to Pliny, garum was an “exquisite liquid” which was “so pleasant that it can be drunk” (Walker, 300). Not everybody loved fish sauce, however. The statesman Seneca described it as “poisonous fish” which “burns up with stomach with its putrefaction” (Rimas, 51). 


Relatively little is known about how garum was used in the Roman world until the 1st century CE, through the works of Marcus Gavius Apicius. Apicius, the renowned epicure, records nearly 350 recipes that use fish sauce. It was added as an ingredient in almost every recipe, including many sweet dishes. It may have also been used as a table condiment, though there is little evidence to support this.

Fish, Roman Mosaic

Garum was mixed with other liquids to create new sauces, such as oenogarum (fish sauce with wine) and oxygarum (fish sauce with vinegar). The most famous sausage in the ancient world, lucanica, was smoked, spiced and given a salty flavour with the addition of liquamen. Galen, the famed 1st-2nd century CE Roman physician, even prescribed a bowl of lentils and garum for those suffering from diarrhoea.


While the garum industry was not as large as that of olive oil or wine, it was still significant and widespread. Factories dedicated to the production existed across the empire, mainly found in Spain, Portugal, southern France and North Africa. To date, the largest factory uncovered in the western Mediterranean, located at Lixus (in modern-day Morocco). The site included ten factories with a salting capacity of over 1,000,000 litres. By comparison, the largest olive oil factory discovered could only produce one-tenth of this amount.

Garum sociorum could be sold for 1,000 sesterces for 12 pints, the equivalent of 2,000 loaves of bread.   

The production of fish sauce could also take place more widely than those of other foods, such as olive oil and wine, which could not be grown in certain parts of the empire. Fish, on the other hand, could be processed near any body of water that had access to a salt supply. While fish sauce was imported to Roman Britain mainly from the Iberian peninsula, archaeological sites near London, Lincoln and York have been identified as possible garum factories. Not always popular, at certain times, when the smell from production became too overwhelming, local governors had to temporarily halt production. 

Due to varying types of fish and processes used, each location produced a sauce with a distinct taste, colour and consistency. By the time of Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE), a type of fish sauce made in Cartagena and Cadiz, Spain, called garum sociorum, was considered the highest quality. Garum sociorum could be sold for 1,000 sesterces for 12 pints, the equivalent of over 950 kg (1.05 tons) of wheat in Pompeii in 79 CE or 2,000 loaves of bread.   

Ruins of a Garum Factory, Baelo Claudia


Some historians believe fish sauce was introduced to Asia by the Romans via the Silk Road, while others maintain that Asian communities independently invented their own varieties. Either or both may be true. Interestingly, in 2010 CE, a team of researchers analysed samples of garum taken from containers preserved at Pompeii. They found that Roman fish sauce from the 1st century CE had an almost identical taste profile to those produced today in southeast Asia.

In Europe, the fall of the Roman Empire led to heavy taxes on salt, driving up the price of garum. Alongside this, an increase in pirate activity in the Mediterranean meant traditional trades routes were disrupted. Some areas continued localised production, such as the famous colatura di alici fish sauce made in Cetara, southwest Italy. In general terms, however, production almost entirely disappeared across the West.

References to garum crop up again in later accounts from Byzantium. It is mentioned by Liutprand of Cremona in the 10th century CE, who wrote:

There was a liquor called garum which was once as widely used at Rome as vinegar is now. We found it as popular in Turkey as it ever was. There is not a fishmonger’s shop in Constantinople that has not some for sale…

(Dalby, 2010, 68) 

Though garum was probably not as popular as Liutprand claims as it was only mentioned sporadically.   


Since Roman times, and perhaps before, fish sauce has been extremely popular in the southeast Asian countries of Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Fish sauce had at one point been used widely across Japan, Korea and parts of China but from the 14th century CE soy sauce replaced it as the salt-giving, umami-enhancing ingredient. Today, with the cuisines of Southeast Asia becoming more prominent in the West and with more Westerners travelling to the region than ever before, varieties of fish sauce are regaining their ancient popularity.

This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.

Chartres Cathedral

The Notre Dame Cathedral (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption) of Chartres in northern France was built in its current Romanesque and Gothic form between 1190 and 1220 CE. A grander version of earlier cathedrals on the same site, it would attract pilgrims from far and wide, gaining fame for its size, sculpture, and an unequalled number of stained glass windows. The cathedral has hosted several famous events such as the coronation of King Henry IV of France (r. 1553-1610 CE) and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153 CE) famously came here to preach the virtues of joining the Second Crusade (1147-1149 CE). The cathedral has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1979 CE.

Historical Overview

Chartres has been an important Christian centre since at least the 4th century CE when it was the seat of bishops. The presence of a cathedral in the city is first attested in historical records in 743 CE when the Duke of Aquitaine sacked the city and destroyed it. The people of Chartres built a new one, but unfortunately, it lasted only a century and was burnt down when the Viking leader Hastings torched the city in 858 CE. Undeterred, the people soon had a third cathedral, which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and consecrated in 876 CE. It was at this time that the cathedral received its most famous holy relic, the Sancta Camisia, a cloth thought to have been worn by Mary when she gave birth to Jesus Christ. Given by Charles the Bald, a grandson of Charlemagne, the relic is still housed today in the cathedral’s treasury.

Not only did the Sancta Camisia promise to protect Chartres from any future attacks but it also attracted many Christians from far and wide who wanted to see it for themselves. The cathedral was now well on its way to becoming a major pilgrimage centre, and it also attracted the sick as it gained a reputation for the success of its typical nine-day healing treatment. Provisions were made to best deal with all these visitors, the flooring of the cathedral, for example, was given a gentle incline to aid washing and some of the panels of the stained glass windows could be removed easily to give the place a good airing every now and then.

In the first decades of the 13th century CE, two huge Triple-Doored Porches were added & the famous stained glass windows began to be installed.

Yet another attack on Chartres seemed imminent in 911 CE, but this time the population could call on the Sancta Camisia for protection. The forces of the Viking leader Rollon were arranged outside the city ready to make their final assault, but when the bishop of Chartres paraded the holy relic on the city’s walls, the Norsemen withdrew, Rollon even later converting to Christianity. It was to be only a temporary reprieve, for Chartres was sacked in 962 CE by Richard, the Duke of Normandy.

Besides being a hot spot for pilgrims, Chartres also gained a reputation as a centre of learning. The Benedictine monks of the St-Pèren-Vallée monastery just outside the city were known for their scholarly output, but even more famous was the cathedral’s own academy. The latter institution attracted the great bishop-scholar Fulbert in 990 CE and established itself as the seat of learning in France, a position it would hold until the University of Paris was formed in 1215 CE. Then disaster struck, and a fire destroyed the cathedral in 1020 CE. The next version, though, bankrolled by kings and nobles from England, France, and Denmark was going to be a whole lot bigger and better than its predecessors.

South Porch, Chartres Cathedral

Construction & Design

The first element of the new cathedral to be built was, logically, the lower part, and in 1024 CE, a huge crypt, the largest in the country, was constructed. The upper structure was built in the Romanesque style with a large central nave, aisles, and apsidal chapels. By 1028 CE there was a north tower, a bell-tower, and west-porch. In the 1130s CE an extension plan was underway. In the north-west corner, a free-standing tower with a wooden steeple was built. The next major addition was the 103-metre tall south-west tower with its distinctive octagonal stone steeple. Then the crypts were extended to meet both new towers, between which a huge doorway was added with three lancet windows and a triple doorway, the Royal Portal (1145-1155 CE). All of this activity produced a very fine cathedral measuring around 136 metres in length and 73 metres at its widest point, but in June 1194 CE, once again, a fire broke out causing severe damage. Fortunately, the western towers, Royal Portal, and Sancta Camisia were unscathed by this latest calamity.    

Again with royal funds, the bishop gathered his flock and set about rebuilding the cathedral on an even grander scale than before. Heading into the first decades of the 13th century CE, a huge 33.2 metre-wide North Porch with a triple doorway was added and the famous stained glass windows began to be installed, many donated by wealthy nobles from across Europe. The crypt was enlarged, its walls doubled and chapels inserted which alternated the Gothic and Romanesque styles. The floor plan was made into a Latin cross by adding a wide transept and the whole building built higher creating an immensely high and vaulted interior space with a double gallery. The new height necessitated external flying buttresses with cross-ribbed vaulting for additional support, but the upside was the possibility of very tall windows which could be filled with jewel-like stained glass. The South Porch, only a couple of metres less grandiose than its northern twin was added with a flight of 17 steps leading to its triple-arched doorways. By 1220 CE the masterpiece was finally finished (although it would not be until October 1260 CE that it was officially dedicated), and it impressed all who saw it, including the court chronicler William the Breton:

None can be found in the whole world that would equal its structure, its size and decor…the Mother of Christ has a special love for this one church…None is shining so brightly than this nowadays, rising anew and complete. (quoted in Miller, 2009, p. 7)

Devil & Nun, Chartres Cathedral

It was not quite the end of the architectural story, though, as various additions came along thereafter, notably the vestry in the mid-13th century CE, tagged on to the edge of the North Porch. The Saint Piat Chapel, which now houses the cathedral’s treasury, was added to the apsidal chapels between 1324 and 1353 CE. In 1507 CE, thanks to the generosity of Louis XII (r. 1498-1515 CE), the steeple of the north tower was replaced after it was burnt by a lightning strike. The new extravagant Gothic version of the steeple, putting its plain southern twin completely in the shade, was finished in 1513 CE, and it increased the tower’s height to around 111 metres.

The porches on the north & south sides show a narrative of scenes depicting the story of humanity from the Creation to the Last Judgment.


External sculpture work is best seen in the three magnificent porches. The Royal or West Portal has kings and queens of Judah and Old Testament prophets incorporated into the columns which separate the three doorways. The top frieze shows relief scenes from Christ’s life and death. The porches on the north and south sides show a narrative of scenes depicting the story of humanity from the Creation to the Last Judgment as well as figures of Jesus Christ, his apostles, martyrs, and confessors. Some of the most striking figures are the many devils spiriting away sinners to their awful fate, even a nun in one case as a reminder that the worst kind of sinner was a knowing one. Inside the cathedral, the star sculptural attraction is the screen which covers the chancel. Executed from c. 1530 CE and slowly added to over the following two centuries, it has 40 niches containing large figure sculptures depicting the key events of the lives of Mary and Jesus from the Nativity to the Resurrection.   

Detail, South Rose Window, Chartres Cathedral

Stained Glass Windows

The stained glass windows of Chartres are the most complete group surviving anywhere from the Middle Ages. Several, such as the striking Blue Virgin window, date to the 12th century CE while over 150 survive from the early 13th century CE. There are religious scenes to tell the faithful the key stories of the Bible as well as countless depictions of saints, kings, queens, nobles, knights, and priests. The city’s merchants donated 42 windows to the cathedral and they crop up in many smaller scenes showing the full range of medieval professions from barrel-makers to butchers. Most windows, when they tell a narrative such as the life of a saint, should be read from left to right starting at the base. A typical example of such a window is the parable of the Good Samaritan with 24 panels (located on the right just after entering the Royal Portal).

Other standout examples are the window depicting the Passion and Resurrection, which dates to c. 1150 CE and boasts 14 scenes from the final moments of Jesus Christ’s life. The Zodiac window has agricultural scenes and 12 signs of the Zodiac, each labour being associated with the typical period of the year in which it was performed, for example, Virgo (August-September) is next to wine pressing. Finally, there are three main rose windows, the largest being the spectacular west rose, which is over 15 metres in diameter, dates to c. 1215 CE, and depicts scenes from the Last Judgement.   

Labyrinth Flooring

The central flooring of the 32-metre wide nave of the cathedral is paved with a labyrinth design, laid down using white stone and black marble c. 1200 CE. The centre once had a copper plaque which may have depicted Theseus and the Minotaur of Greek mythology. The function of this design, which is 12.88 metres in diameter, was for the faithful to walk around its 261.5-metre spiralling route, or even drag themselves around on their knees, in imitation of pilgrims who travelled to Jerusalem or as a symbolic passage through life itself. Such floor labyrinths were a feature of many medieval churches although this example is the best preserved in France.

Labyrinth, Chartres Cathedral

Curiously, the labyrinth of Chartres’ nave is almost exactly the same diameter as the west rose window (which as we have seen also has a ‘passage to the next life’ theme). In addition, the distance from the centre of the window to the floor and the distance from the centre of the labyrinth to the nearest wall, which has the west rose window, are almost identical. The centre panel of the window shows Jesus Christ and thus perhaps forms a spiritual and visual link if the viewer from the centre of the labyrinth follows the imaginary hypotenuse of the isosceles triangle created between wall and floor.

Later History

Chartres Cathedral has survived the centuries remarkably well, despite regular and serious threats such as the siege of the city by the Huguenots in 1568 CE, the dramas of the French Revolution when the cathedral’s wooden statue of Mary was burned outside what was then renamed the ‘Temple of Reason’, and the hazard of World War II bombs. The old enemy was, as ever, fire, and another destructive one in 1836 CE (caused by careless workmen) necessitated the installation of a new roof, this time with a cast-iron framework and copper covering. Perhaps the most damaging changes, and certainly the most controversial ones, were those carried out by the clergy themselves in the 18th century CE. In what now seems a reckless series of poor-taste modifications, the choir was altered, with some of its stained glass windows replaced by plain glass to let in more light, stucco was added to the pillars, and an iron grill gate replaced the rood screen of 1763 CE. Some of these alterations have since been reversed, and restoration work, cleaning and the replacement of some outside statues with replicas has been ongoing since the 1960s CE. In 1979 CE the Cathedral was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.


Sukhothai or Sukhothai Historical Park was the former capital of the Kingdom of Sukhothai (1248-1438 CE), which was founded by King Si Inthrathit (r. 1238-1270 CE) and was the first in a series of independent polities that would eventually coalesce together to form what is present-day Thailand. Sukhothai is located in northeast Thailand and lies 12 km (miles) from the modern city of Sukhothai Thani and 430 km (280 miles) from Bangkok. At its height, Sukhothai was a magnificent, albeit, small city with elegant temples, palaces, stunning monuments, and waterways. The effervescence of culture in this city during the 13th and 14th centuries CE has left an indelible imprint on Thai art, language, and politics, and Sukhothai is still revered as the birthplace of Thai culture by Thais today. UNESCO declared Sukhothai and the neighboring ruins of Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet as a single UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991 CE.

History of Sukhothai

The historic city of Sukhothai is located in the modern province of Sukhothai in what is presently northeastern Thailand, near the Yom, which is one of the larger tributaries of the Chao Phraya River. In Sanskrit, Sukhothai means “Dawn of Happiness” or “Emergence of Joy.” Sukhothai was originally a small Khmer city in design and structure with Hindu temples and canals reminiscent of Angkor Wat. It is likely that the Khmer constructed this city at some point in either the 12th or early 13th century CE, and one can still find a few remains of older Khmer structures at Sukhothai. In the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries CE, the northern and central regions of what is present-day Thailand received an influx of people from what is now south-central China: the Tai.

These people intermarried with local inhabitants, like the Mon and Khmer people, and moved into the area in and around Sukhothai. (To outsiders, these people were known as “Siam,” from which the term “Siamese” is thus derived.) They established muang, tiny “city-states,” which were subordinate to Khmer rule. It is worth noting that these city-states formed a key juncture in history as the Khmer Empire began to decline after years of warfare with neighboring Champa in the late 12th century and early 13th century CE. A political vacuum in the region followed the death of Jayavarman VII (c. 1181-1218 CE), and the Tai quickly began to challenge Khmer political power in the region, asserting first autonomy and then complete independence from their Khmer overlords.

At the end of the 1300s CE, Sukhothai was one of the largest centers of Buddhism in the world.

In c. 1238 CE, King Si Inthrathit (also known in Thai as “Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao” and other through other honorifics) united several Thai polities under the control of Thai noblemen into a single kingdom under his suzerainty at the city of Sukhothai. (For this reason, the Thai see him as akin to the “founding father of the Thai nation.”) The exact circumstances of this event are shrouded in mystery and unfortunately historians only have fragments of broken stele and other partial records. What is known is that Si Inthrathit consolidated his rule and defended the Kingdom of Sukhothai against the Khmer. A younger son of Si Inthrathit, King Ram Khamhaeng (r.c. 1275-1298 CE), expanded the boundaries of the kingdom to the south and east, and formally adopted Theravada as Sukhothai’s official religion. Ram Khamhaeng additionally sent envoys to China, helping to stimulate trade and enrich Sukhothai.

Sukhothai flourished over the next 150 years in large part due to its geographic location. Centered almost midway between the Khmer Empire to the southeast and the Burmese Kingdom of Pagan to the northwest, cosmopolitan Sukhothai thrived on commerce and patronage. Sukhothai and the neighboring city of Si Satchanalai (nowadays the Si Satchanalai Historical Park) became centers in the production and exportation of ceramics throughout Southeast Asia. While somewhat similar to Khmer stoneware or Vietnamese ceramics, the artisans of Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai produced pottery with a green-glaze ware, which attracted widespread admiration and can be found as far away as what is present-day Indonesia and the Philippines.

At the end of the 1300s CE, Sukhothai was one of the largest centers of Buddhism in the world. The successors of Sir Inthrathit and Ram Khamhaeng established beautiful Theravada temples and recruited Buddhist monks from afar to come and live in the city of Sukhothai. Of special note are King Lo Thai (r.c. 1298-1347 CE) and King Maha Thammaracha I or “Lu Thai” (r. 1347-1368 CE). Both were devout Buddhists and patrons of the arts who greatly enhanced the city’s beauty through the construction of monumental architecture. During their reigns, a distinct style of Sukhothai art emerged, and Lu Thai wrote Thailand’s most notable ancient work, the Traibhumikatha (“Sermon on the Three Worlds”) in 1345 CE. Images of the Buddha, as reflected in sculpture or painting, became highly stylized and recognizable by virtue of their grace and elegance at Sukhothai. Sukhothai’s temples as well delineate a certain ethereal grace with their bell-shaped stupas and lotus-bud finials. Architects and engineers came to Sukhothai to build exquisite monasteries of brick and decorated them with carved stucco.

The city of Ayutthaya grew quickly into the center of a vast kingdom that would ultimately absorb Sukhothai in 1438 CE.

Nonetheless, despite Sukhothai’s wealth and fame, a rival Thai kingdom in the south challenged the city’s political and cultural primacy in the region of present-day Thailand during the late 14th century CE: Ayutthaya (c. 1351-1757 CE). Lying on an island at the intersection of the Pa Sak, the Chao Phraya, and Lopburi Rivers and close to the Gulf of Thailand, the city of Ayutthaya grew quickly into the center of a vast kingdom that would ultimately absorb Sukhothai in 1438 CE. King Boromaracha I (r. 1370-1388 CE) was the first king of Ayutthaya to challenge Sukhothai, and subsequent kings from Ayutthaya gradually annexed or conquered territories belonging to Sukhothai. The later kings of Sukhothai acknowledged the supremacy of Ayutthaya in 1378 E, and the kingdom became a province of Ayutthaya in 1438 CE. Inscriptions from Sukhothai in the late 14 and early 15th centuries CE attest to a city and a kingdom beset with internal strife between various noble families, which in large part explains the kingdom’s rapid decline. There have been suggestions too that Sukhothai’s fortunes fell drastically when the Yom River changed its course, and the production of agriculture in the vicinity of Sukhothai fell.

Sukhothai gradually diminished in population size and in cultural importance, although its prized ceramics continued to be produced in and around Si Satchanalai. Sukhothai suffered repeatedly over the centuries due to intermittent warfare between Ayutthaya and Burma from the 16th-18th centuries CE, and wars with the Burmese, King Naresuan of Ayutthaya (c. 1590-1605 CE) forced many of Sukhothai’s residents to relocate closer to Ayutthaya as a result of depopulation. Modern interest in Sukhothai arose again after the defeat of Ayutthaya and the relocation of the Thai capital to Bangkok in 1782 CE. Thai kings and archaeologists came to Sukhothai to study and admire its ruins in the 1800s and 1900s CE. Many of Sukhothai’s renowned statues and other works of art are now at the National Museum in Bangkok, Thailand.

Ruins of Sukhothai

Sukhothai is an impressive and monumental ancient Buddhist city that can only be rivaled in Southeast Asia by Angkot Wat in Cambodia, the Buddhist temples of Bagan in Myanmar (Burma), the Hindu temples of Mỹ Sơn in Vietnam, and the ruins of Borobudur and Prambanan in Indonesia. The ruins of Sukhothai in art and architecture reflect the diverse ancestry of the modern Thai people as one finds styles and artistics influences from the Mon, Tai and Khmer peoples. Stylistic overlay from ancient India and Sri Lanka are also quite evident at Sukhothai. The total area of the historic town of Sukhothai is 11, 852 ha of which Sukhothai comprises 7,000 ha., Si Satchanalai comprises 4,514 ha., and Kamphaeng Phet comprises 338 ha.

A unique facet of Sukhothai that is little known or commented on is its amazing accomplishment in hydraulic engineering. 

Large city walls running 2 km around Sukhothai once acted as a buffer from invading armies, and there were also three earthen ramparts and two large canals (or moats) that encircled the city. 20 medieval temples (Thai: wat) and countless monuments lie within the historic city of Sukhothai, the most impressive of which is undoubtedly the Wat Mahathat, which contains a statue of the Buddha, an old temple, and ornamental pond. Other structures of special interest include Wat Si Sawai, which is one of Sukhothai’s oldest temples founded by the Khmer and dates from the late 12th century or early 13th century CE, and the 13th-century CE Wat Si Chum temple, which contains the largest Buddha image in Sukhothai and measures 15 m (49 ft) high and 11 m (36 ft) wide.

A unique facet of Sukhothai that is little known or commented on is its amazing accomplishment in hydraulic engineering. The medieval inhabitants of Sukhothai created reservoirs, canals, and sophisticated dams, which permitted increased control of waters during times of drought or flooding. The management of water on a large scale helped Sukhothai’s farmers and merchants carry out a variety of activities of an agricultural, commercial, and ritual nature. This, in turn, lead to greater prosperity and more social harmony in the city of Sukhothai.

Sukhothai’s Legacy  

In the 19th century CE, Thais came to see Sukhothai as the first flowering of Thai culture and an important place in their cultural consciousness. Although the city of Sukhothai flourished for just under 200 years, it undoubtedly left an enduring mark on the subsequent course of Thai history and certainly Thai culture as well. When one thinks of the Thai alphabet, Thai architecture, and Thai sculpture, it is important to realize that they all had their genesis at Sukhothai. Thai school children still memorize the lines from a famous stone inscription that dates to c. 1298 CE and evokes Sukhothai’s prestige:

This land of Sukhothai is thriving. There are fish in the water and rice in the fields. The lord of the realm does not levy toll on his subjects. They are free to lead their cattle or ride their horses and to engage in trade; whoever wants to trade in elephants, does so; whoever wants to trade in horses, does so; whoever wants to trade in silver and gold, does so.

This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.

Salado Culture

The Salado culture is a term used by historians and archaeologists to describe a pre-Columbian Southwestern culture that flourished from c. 1200-1450 CE in the Tonto Basin of what is now the southern parts of the present-day US states of Arizona and New Mexico. Although scholarly debate continues as to the exact origins of the Salado culture, as well as how it disappeared, there is some consensus among scholars and archaeologists that the Salado culture had distinctive art, architectural traditions, and burial practices that distinguish them from their Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi), Mogollon, and Hohokam neighbors. Among the ancient cultures of the U.S. Southwest, the Salado culture is especially noted for its stunning iconographic designs and pottery production. The US archaeologist Harold Gladwin (1883-1983 CE) was the first to analyze these cultural traits and a shared artistic style in the 1920s CE, and he referred to this indigenous culture as the “Salado.” The name stems from the Salt River (Spanish: Río Salado), which flows through the valley of their cultural genesis.

Prehistory & Geography

The area in and around the Tonto Basin forms part of a large intermountain basin, which facilitated human settlement as it was rich in natural resources. The Salt River runs through eastern Arizona, slicing through the White Mountains, until it intersects with the Gila River in what is now central Arizona. The land therein is surprisingly fertile, and a diverse array of flora grows in a series of interlinked microenvironments: walnut trees, sycamore, mesquite saguaro cacti, and jojoba are all found in this region. There are even pinyon and juniper bushes at higher elevations, in addition to other flowering plants that produce nuts and fruit. Wild game is thus also plentiful: deer, rabbits, and quail frequent the area.

It is generally believed that a high level of cross-cultural exchange occurred in the region between the Mogollon & Hohokam people before the arrival of any newcomers.

The lands that the Salado culture came to occupy witnessed human inhabitation long before the emergence of the Salado. (Their spectacular emergence is commonly referred to as the “Salado Phenomenon” by academics.) The work of archaeologists in recent years has shown that humans have inhabited the Tonto Basin since c. 5000 BCE. Several Paelo-Indian mammoth kill sites are located in what was once considered the Salado heartland, and there are signs that indigenous peoples constructed small cliff dwellings as early as c. 3500 BCE. Permanent occupation, however, dates from c. 100-600 CE, when the peoples belonging to the Mogollon settled the eastern parts of this region and left pottery shards as evidence of their presence. The Hohokam moved into the Tonto Basin from around what is now the vicinity of the modern city of Phoenix, Arizona between c. 600-750 CE. The Hohokam constructed their ubiquitous pit-houses, built complex irrigation canals, and cultivated maize, squash, beans, and cotton. Despite the presence of pottery remains that attests the fact that the Hohokam occupied the Tonto Basin for at least 300 years, archaeologists and historians are divided whether or not the Hohokam people eventually left the region to return to the Phoenix Basin sometime around c. 1150 CE.

Doorway, Tonto National Monument

Many archaeological remains and artifacts belonging to the Mogollon and Hohokam were destroyed due to the construction of the Theodore Roosevelt Lake reservoir and a masonry dam in 1911 CE. (Unfortunately, the construction of this same lake destroyed innumerable archaeological remnants from the Salado culture as well.) It is generally believed that a high level of cross-cultural exchange occurred in the region between the Mogollon and Hohokam people before the arrival of any newcomers.

Formation of the Salado Culture

The 12th and 13th centuries CE were pivotal in the formation and subsequent cultural development of the indigenous peoples of the ancient Southwest. Environmental data shows that years of drought were followed by years of torrential rains and flooding across the region of what is present-day Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. Deprivation caused by environmental stresses combined with social chaos and political disorder likely prompted the migration of many peoples, but especially the Ancestral Puebloans, to seek fertile lands near the Little Colorado River (in Arizona), the Rio Grande (in New Mexico), and the Tonto Basin (in Arizona).

It is probable that the Salado culture is truly the end result of an amalgamation of the Mogollon, Hohokam, & Ancestral Puebloan cultures. 

Between c. 1200-1300 CE, Ancestral Puebloan peoples (and probably some Mogollon peoples as well) entered the Tonto Basin, encountering other Mogollon and Hohokam communities. Here, the three cultures intermixed socially and intermarried, adopting or adapting new cultural practices in turn based on utility and necessity. Archaeologists have debated the genesis of the Salado culture since the 1920s CE. Some explained and theorized the emergence of the Salado culture as a mixture of Mogollon and Hohokam populations, Hohokam and Ancestral Puebloan populations, or even as a subset of the Hohokam cultural tradition. In the last couple of decades, archaeologists have come to view the rise of the Salado culture in ways similar to the perspective first proposed by Harold Gladwin. It is probable that the Salado culture is truly the end result of an amalgamation of the Mogollon, Hohokam, and Ancestral Puebloan cultures and their respective populations – a veritable cultural melting pot in the ancient Southwest. The development of the Salado culture can be best understood then as the result of migration and localized cultural evolution in situ.

Salado Culture & History

Members of the Salado culture constructed small villages or hamlets as well as shallow pit structures. They also built small, ceremonial platform mounds, irrigation canals, multi-storied pueblo made of adobe, and cliff dwellings by c. 1300 CE. One does find T-shaped doorways like those found in Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, Wupatki, and Casas Grandes, which suggests strong Ancestral Puebloan and Mogollon influence in Salado architecture. Curiously though, one does not find kivas at sites associated with the Salado culture, and Salado structures were often surrounded by stone walls, which features prominently in Hohokam architectural traditions. (It is worth noting too that many Salado constructions sit on top of former Hohokam residences in the Tonto Basin.) Storage spaces were set aside for agricultural and artisan goods, and space was generally allocated by purpose.

Salado Polychrome Jar

The largest Salado towns once contained as many as 1500 people, and other settlements included impressive compounds that contained 30-100 rooms. At Tonto National Monument in Arizona, one can still see the Upper and Lower Cliff Dwelling, which encompassed over 50 rooms in two-story complexes. Originally occupied from c. 1225-1400 CE and located near what is present-day Globe, Arizona, Besh-Ba-Gowah contained a 200-room multi-storied pueblo. Besh-Ba-Gowah was one of the largest Salado settlements that archaeologists have found. The Tonto Basin may have supported up to 10,000 people during its occupation by the Salado culture although a more precise figure is difficult to estimate.

Salado pottery demonstrates a striking combination of white, black, & red colors in geometrical shapes.

Those who belonged to the Salado cultural group grew corn, cotton, squash and amaranth, as well as beans. They also cultivated agave and used yucca to weave sandals, mats, and baskets. The Salado cultural group traded extensively with their neighbors in the Southwest, and their pottery — commonly referred to as “Roosevelt Red Ware,” “Salado Red Ware,” or “Salado Polychrome” — has been found as far away as Casas Grandes, in what is now Chihuahua, Mexico, where it was highly prized. Salado pottery demonstrates a striking combination of white, black, and red colors in geometrical shapes and lines with additional compositional characteristics. Many archaeologists conclude that among the ceramic traditions of the ancient Southwest, the Salado tradition produced the most widely traded pottery.

The Salado cultural group initially buried and cremated their dead. (The Ancestral Puebloans and Mogollon buried their dead, while the Hohokam cremated theirs.) Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of many individuals who were buried in supine positions. Salado dead were laid to rest in plazas or patios; at Besh-Ba-Gowah, archaeologists have uncovered 150 skeletons from its central square. Some graves are filled with what appears to be ritual offerings, including vessels, precious stones or minerals, and even furniture. This has led some archaeologists to theorize that the placement of the dead reflected the indigenous social hierarchy of a Salado community. Little is known about religious customs or practices among the Salado cultural group, as it is difficult for researchers to differentiate religious objects from other artifacts.

Collapse of the Salado Culture

The disappearance of the Salado culture remains yet another mystery among many in the ancient Southwest. It is known that after c. 1350 CE, climatic changes adversely affected Salado settlements in Arizona and New Mexico. The area in and around the Tanto Basin became drier in the 14th century CE, but there were periods of devastating floods and famine too. It is credible that some inhabitants began to relocate to larger Salado settlements or elsewhere beginning in the late 14th century CE, and this pattern of outwards migration continued or even accelerated in the 15th century CE. Some archaeologists have speculated that many communities collapsed when irrigation fields were destroyed by floods and salization, which hampered agricultural production at Salado farms. This is exactly what happened at Pillar Mound in Arizona, which was deserted after a torrential flood destroyed its irrigation canals. There is some evidence for intercommunal strife at Besh-Ba-Gowah, and violence may have encouraged migration en masse as well. Native American oral traditions tell us that some members of the Salado cultural group migrated north and northeast to join the Hopi and Zuni communities, some joined the pueblos along the Rio Grande in what is modern New Mexico, and others moved south towards Casas Grandes.

This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.


The Crusades were a series of military campaigns organised by popes and Christian western powers in order to take Jerusalem and the Holy Land back from Muslim control and then defend those gains. There were eight major official crusades between 1095 CE and 1270 CE and many more unofficial ones, none would be as successful as the first, and by 1291 CE the Crusader-created states in the Middle East were absorbed into the Mamluk Sultanate. The idea of crusading was applied more successfully (for Christians) to other regions, notably in the Baltic against European pagans and in the Iberian Peninsula against the Muslim Moors. Involving emperors, kings, and Europe‘s nobility, as well as thousands of knights and more humble warriors, the wars would have tremendous consequences for all involved. The effects, besides the obvious death, ruined lives, destruction and wasted resources, ranged from the collapse of the Byzantine Empire to a souring of relations and intolerance between religions and peoples in the East and West which still blights governments and societies today.

Causes & Motivations

The First Crusade (1095-1102 CE) set a precedent for the heady mix of politics, religion, and violence that would drive all the future campaigns. The Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118 CE) saw an opportunity to gain western military aid in defeating the Muslim Seljuks who were eating away at his empire in Asia Minor. When the Seljuks took over Jerusalem (from their fellow Muslims, not the Christians who had lost the city centuries earlier) in 1087 CE, this provided the catalyst to mobilise western Christians into action. Pope Urban II (r. 1088-1099 CE) responded to this call for help, motivated by a desire to strengthen the Papacy and milk the prestige to become the undisputed head of the whole Christian church including the Orthodox East. Taking back Jerusalem and such sites as the Holy Sepulchre, considered the tomb of Jesus Christ, after four centuries of Muslim control would be a real coup. Consequently, the Pope set in motion a preaching campaign across Europe, which appealed for western nobles and knights to sharpen their swords, suit up and get themselves over to the Holy Land to defend Christendom’s most precious sites and any Christians there in danger.

The defence of Christians & the faith, warriors were promised by the Pope, brought a remission of sins & a fast-track route to Heaven. 

The warriors who ‘took the cross’, as the oath to crusade was known, and made the incredibly arduous journey to fight in a foreign land were motivated by any number of things. First and foremost was the religious aspect – the defence of Christians and the faith, they were promised by the Pope, brought a remission of sins and a fast-track route to Heaven. There were also ideals of chivalry and doing the right thing (although chivalry was in its infancy at the time of the First Crusade), peer and family pressure, the chance to gain material wealth, perhaps even land and titles, and the desire to travel and see the great holy sites in person. Many warriors had far less glamorous ambitions and were simply compelled to follow their lords, some sought to escape debts and justice, others merely sought a decent living with regular meals included. These motivations would continue to guarantee large numbers of recruits throughout all subsequent campaigns.

The First Crusade

Against all odds, the international army of the First Crusade overcame the difficulties of logistics and the skills of the enemy to recapture first Antioch in June 1098 CE and then the big one, Jerusalem on 15 July 1099 CE. With their heavy cavalry, shining armour, siege technology, and military know-how, the western knights sprung a surprise on the Muslims that would not be repeated. The slaughter of Muslims after the fall of Jerusalem would not be forgotten either. There had been a few cock-ups along the way, like the annihilation of the People’s Crusade, a band of non-professional rabble, and a fair amount of deaths due to plagues, disease, and famine, but overall the success of the First Crusade astonished even the organisers themselves. Multinational cooperative warfare could reap dividends, it seemed, and this was the moment when the merchants started to show an interest in the crusades too.

Taking of Jerusalem by the Crusaders

The Crusader States

To defend the territory now in Christian hands, four Crusader States were formed: the Kingdom of Jerusalem,  County of Edessa, County of Tripoli, and Principality of Antioch. Collectively, these were known as the Latin East or Outremer. The trade between the West and East, which went through these states, and the lucrative contracts to ship crusaders to the Levant attracted the merchants of such cities as Venice, Pisa, Genoa, and Marseille. Military orders sprang up in the Crusader States, such as the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller, which were able bodies of professional knights who lived as monks and who were given the job of defending key castles and passing pilgrims. Unfortunately for Christendom, the Crusader States always suffered a shortage of manpower and bickering between the nobles who had settled in them. Theirs was not to be an easy existence over the next century.  

The Second Crusade

In 1144 CE the city of Edessa in Upper Mesopotamia was captured by the Muslim Seljuk leader Imad ad-Din Zangi (r. 1127-1146 CE), the independent ruler of Mosul (in Iraq) and Aleppo (in Syria), and many Christians were killed or enslaved. This would spark off another crusade to get it back again. The German king Conrad III (r. 1138-1152 CE) and Louis VII, the king of France (r. 1137-1180 CE), led the Second Crusade of 1147-9 CE, but this royal seal of approval did not bring success. Zangi’s death only brought an even more determined figure on the scene, his successor Nur al-Din (r. 1146-1174 CE), who sought to bind the Muslim world together in a holy war against the Christians in the Levant. Two big defeats at the hands of the Seljuks in 1147 and 1148 CE knocked the stuffing out of the Crusader army, and their last-ditch attempt to salvage something honourable from the campaign, a siege of Damascus in June 1148 CE, was another miserable failure. The next year Nur al-Din captured Antioch, and the County of Edessa ceased to exist by 1150 CE.

The Near East in 1135 CE

The Reconquista

In 1147 CE, the Second Crusaders had stopped off at Lisbon en route to the East to assist King Alfonso Henriques of Portugal (r. 1139-1185 CE) capture that city from the Muslims. This was part of the ongoing rise of the northern Christian statelets in Iberia who were eager to push the Muslim Moors out of southern Spain, the so-called Reconquista (the Reconquest, although the Muslims had been there since the early 8th century CE). The popes were more than happy to support this campaign and widen the idea of crusading to include the Moors as yet another enemy of the West. The same spiritual benefits were offered to those who fought in the Middle East or Iberia. The Spanish and Portuguese nobility were also keen to have the backing of a higher authority and the manpower and financial resources it promised. New local military orders sprang up, and the campaigns were remarkably successful so that only Granada remained in Muslim hands after the mid-13th century CE.

The Baltic campaigns involved a new aspect of Crusading: the active conversion of non-Christians as opposed to liberating territory held by infidels. 

The Northern Crusades

A third arena for the crusades, again backed by the popes and wider Church infrastructure, was the Baltic and those areas bordering German territories which continued to be pagan. The Northern Crusades of the 12th to 15th century CE were first conducted by a Saxon army led by German and Danish nobles who selected the pagan Wends (aka Western Slavs) as their target in 1147 CE. This was a whole new facet of crusading: the active conversion of non-Christians as opposed to liberating territory held by infidels. The crusades would continue thereafter, largely conducted by the military order of Teutonic Knights who called upon knights from across Europe to help them. The order in effect carved out its own state in Prussia and then moved on to what is today Lithuania and Estonia. Quite often brutally converting pagans and probably more motivated by land and wealth acquisition than anything else, the Crusades were so successful in their aims that the Teutonic Knights did themselves out of a job and, by the end of the 14th century CE, had to focus instead, and with much more meagre results, on the Poles, Ottoman Turks, and Russians.   

Northern Crusades, 1260-1410 CE

The Third Crusade

Back in the Middle East, the fate of the three remaining Crusader States was becoming even more precarious. The new star Muslim leader, Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria (r. 1174-1193 CE) won a great victory against a Latin East army at the Battle of Hattin in 1187 CE and then immediately took Jerusalem. These events would bring on the Third Crusade (1189-1192 CE). Perhaps the most glamorous of all the campaigns, this time there were two western kings and an emperor in command, hence its other name of ‘the Kings’ Crusade’. The three big names were: Frederick I Barbarossa, King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor (r. 1152-1190 CE) Philip II of France (r. 1180-1223 CE) and Richard I ‘the Lionhearted’ of England (r. 1189-1199 CE). 

Despite the royal pedigree, things got off to the worst possible start for the Crusaders when Frederick drowned in a river on his way to the Holy Land in June 1190 CE. Richard’s presence did finally end the siege of Acre in the Christians’ favour in July 1191 CE, after the English king had already caused a stir by capturing Cyprus en route. Marching towards Jaffa, the Christian army scored another victory at the Battle of Arsuf in September 1191 CE, but by the time the force got to Jerusalem, it was felt they could not take the city, and even if they did, the still largely intact army of Saladin would almost certainly and immediately take it back again. The end result of the Third Crusade was a mere consolation prize: a treaty which allowed Christian pilgrims to travel to the Holy Land unmolested and a strip of land around Acre. Still, it was a vital foothold and one which inspired many future crusades to expand it into something rather better.   

Later Crusades

The subsequent crusades were very much a story of the Christians shooting their crossbows into their own feet. The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204 CE) somehow managed to identify Constantinople, the greatest Christian city in the world, as the prime target. Papal ambitions, the financial greed of the Venetians, and a century of mutual suspicion between the East and the Western parts of the former Roman Empire all created a storm of aggression that resulted in the sacking of the Byzantine Empire’s capital in 1204 CE. The Empire was carved up between Venice and its allies, its riches and relics spirited away back to Europe.

The Venetians Attack Constantinople, 1204 CE

The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221 CE) saw a change of strategy as the western powers identified the best way to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims – now dominated by the Ayyubid dynasty (1174-1250 CE) – was to attack the enemy’s soft underbelly in Egypt first. Despite the success, after an arduous siege, of taking Damietta on the Nile in November 1219 CE, the westerners’ lack of regard for local conditions and proper logistical support spelt their doom at the Battle of Mansourah in August 1221 CE.

The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229 CE) saw negotiation achieve what warfare had not. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (r. 1220-1250 CE), who had been much criticised for not participating in the Fifth Crusade, managed to strike a deal with al-Kamil, then the Sultan of Egypt and Syria (r. 1218-1238 CE), and Jerusalem was handed over to Christian control with the proviso that Muslim pilgrims could freely enter the city. Al-Kamil was having his own problems in controlling his large empire, especially rebel Damascus, and Jerusalem had no military or economic value at that time, only a religious significance, making it a cheap bargaining chip to avoid a distracting war with Frederick’s army.

The Seventh Crusade (1248-1254 CE) was launched after a Christian army was defeated at the battle of La Forbie in October 1244 CE. Led by the French king Louis IX (r. 1226-1270 CE), the Crusaders repeated the strategy of the Fifth Crusade and achieved only the same miserable results: the acquisition of Damietta and then total defeat at Mansourah. Louis was even captured, although he was later ransomed. The French king would have another go in the Eighth Crusade of 1270 CE.


In 1250 CE the Mamluk Sultanate had taken over from the Ayyubid Dynasty, and they had a formidable leader in the gifted former general Baibars (r. 1260-1277 CE). Louis IX once more attacked North Africa, but the king died of dysentery attacking Tunis in 1270 CE, and with him so too did the Crusade. The Mamluks, meanwhile, extended their domination of the Near East and captured Acre in 1291 CE, so definitively eliminating the Crusader States.

Consequences & Effects

The Crusades had tremendous consequences for all those involved. Besides the obvious death, destruction and hardships the wars caused, they also had significant political and social effects. The Byzantine Empire ceased to be, the popes became the de facto leaders of the Christian Church, the Italian maritime states cornered the Mediterranean market in East-West trade, the Balkans were Christianized, and the Iberian peninsula saw the Moors pushed back to North Africa. The idea of crusading was stretched even further to provide a religious justification for the conquest of the New World in the 15th and 16th century CE. The sheer cost of the crusades saw the royal houses of Europe grow in power as that of the barons and nobles correspondingly declined. People travelled a little more, especially on pilgrimages, and they read and sang songs about the crusades, opening up a little wider their view of the world, even if it turned out to be a prejudiced one for many.

In the longer term, there was the development of the military orders, which eventually became tied with chivalry, many of which exist in one form or another today. Europeans developed a greater sense of their mutual common identity and culture, which also resulted in a sharper degree of xenophobia against non-Christians – Jews and heretics, in particular. Literature and art perpetuated crusading legends on both sides – Chrisitan and Muslim, creating heroes and tragedies in a complex web of myth, imagery, and language which would be applied, very often inaccurately, to the problems and conflicts of the 21st century CE.

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