William Archbishop of Tyre: History of the Events in the Overseas Territories


William of Tyre was born in Jerusalem around 1127. The names of his parents and his nationality are not known. After finishing his first cycle of literary education, he went to Europe to pursue higher education and remained there for many years. He returned to Jerusalem in 1162 and became a friend of King Amalric (1162-1175) and other high personages of the Latin Kingdom.
In 1167 he was promoted archdeacon of the Church of Tyre. The following year he led a successful diplomatic mission to Constantinoples. In 1169 he traveled to Rome. It is there that he had the idea of writing the "Annals of the Latin Kingdom of the Overseas Territories". He returned to Jerusalem where King Amalric entrusted him with the literary education of his son Baldwin IV and encouraged him to write "Historia Orientalium Principum" (from the times of Mohammed till the XII century); the work was unfortunately lost.
Upon the death of Rudolph, Bishop of Bethlehem and royal chancellor (1155-1174), King Amalric invited the archdeacon of Tyre to fill the vacant position. During the month of May of the same year he was unanimously elected Archbishop of Tyre and, after spending ten days of instruction with the Patriarch of Jerusalem, he was consecrated bishop in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
In 1177 he was called to Rome for the Synod of Lateran, where he was in charge of editing the synodic Acts. He returned through Constantinoples where he spent seven months at the court of Emperor Manuel, then visited Antiochia and returned to Tyre in 1180, after twenty two months of absence from the archbishopric see. In 1184 he traveled to Rome again in order to defend himself against certain accusations, but he died after being poisoned by an emissary of his enemies.
In writing the "Story of the Events in the Overseas Territories" William of Tyre used information from the contemporary chronicles but he also gathered information from the people who were playing a role in the political and military life of Jerusalem. He was also a spectator or an actor in the events of the last twenty years of his historiography.
He divided his work in twenty three books, but the last one is not complete. Without any doubt, it is an invaluable contribution to the history of those decades.
His historic narrative proceeds with calm, presenting the facts that were important and real; it is erudite and intelligent without ostentation. It uses terms that indicate prudence. modesty and pity even towards his personal enemies. The inaccuracies are very few.
His Latin language, although not a model of classicism for his times, is a rather elegant language, which can be easily read and understood. Overall it is more correct than the Latin of his contemporaries; several paragraphs are a model of syntax and style.
But there are also tortuous paragraphs, full of redundant and unclear descriptions, ideas that are repeated with synonimous expressions. He abuses the participle; many adverbs are superfluous and are not used to render a nuance, but to achieve a certain harmony of accents. Alliterations abound; many times he makes the object act instead of the person. He alludes to topics presented in other paragraphs or changes topic within a given paragraph; all these are widespread deficiencies of the medieval writers.
His work was printed for the first time in Basel in 1549 and 1564 and was then again included by Bongars in his "Gesta Dei per Francos" published in Hanover in 1611.
The latter edition was included in the "Recueil des Historiens des Croisades" (vol. I, Paris, 1844) and in the "Patrologia Latina del Migne " (vol CCI, pp.201-892, an. 1855).
It was soon translated, although slightly abbreviated, into French at the beginning of the XIII century, under the title of "Estoires d'Eracles empereure", because it started by mentioning the name of the Byzantine emperor. The success was so great that several anonymous writers published similar stories under the name of William of Tyre. One writer, more honest than the others, claimed to be the "continuator" of the Archbishop William's work.
In the first ten chapters the author summarizes the most important events since the times of Mohammed, of Cosroe and Heracles till the times of the First Crusade. The eleventh chapter starts, like the majority of other chronicles, with the pilgrimage of Peter the Hermit, with Pope Urban II's call for the Crusade at Piacenza and Clermont and the arrival of the crusader army led by Godefroy de Bouillon.
The excerpts selected for this presentation of the "Itinerari", which refer directly or indirectly to the pilgrims and the Holy Places, commence with the crusader army entering the Northern area of the future Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, and end with the twenty second book, which presents a large number of interesting details of the geography of the Holy Land.
We know of eight Latin codices and scores of Franch codices. The authors of the "Recueil des Historiens des Croisades" considered the variants of four Latin codices and the Bongars' edition.
The most relevant excerpts of this presentation are: the topographic description of Jerusalem and of other cities of the Latin kingdom; the delimitation of the Christian quarters of Jerusalem; the construction of various crusader castles; the pilgrimage of the Doge of Venice, of Emperor Konrad of Germany and of King Louis of France; the beginnings of the Hospitallers foundation by the Amalfitans; the geographic description of the four principalities of the Orient; the construction of the monastery of Bethany...

Sabino De Sandoli, ofm