Claude Cahen (1909–1991)

Educational Background

Cahen graduated from the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.

Career Notes

Cahen was Professor of History at the University of Strasbourg from 1948 to 1959. He was then Professor of History at the Sorbonne from 1959.

Amongst his other academic honours, Cahen was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1983.

Interests, Influences and Methodologies

Cahen began his career by working on the history of medieval Europe, before specialising in the history of northern Syria and the Latin principality of Antioch in the central Middle Ages. This research laid the intellectual foundations for his subsequent work, in which he expanded his interests both chronologically and geographically by exploring the wider history of the crusades and of the eastern Mediterranean region, including work on medieval Islam, the economic and social history of the Middle East, Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. He was also responsible for producing several editions and translations of Arabic texts.

Cahen’s work was characterised by his holistic approach to the sources and, most notably, by his use of a wide range of material in Arabic and his extensive knowledge of the literary culture of the Arab world. He was quoted as saying: ‘The Arabic historiography of the medieval Islamic world is richer than that of both Christendoms, Eastern and Western, in both Greek and Latin and all the vernaculars, combined’ (Lewis: p 219).

Throughout his adult life Cahen was also a committed Marxist and a Communist, although it is unclear to what extent his politics informed his research. Lewis has written that there is little evidence of Cahen taking an ideological approach to his work (Lewis: pp 219-20), whilst Lapidus has suggested that ‘Cahen believed that his political commitments flowed from his scholarship, and that the two were integral to each other’ (Lapidus: p 189).

Contribution to Crusader Studies

Lewis regarded Cahen as a pioneer, particularly because of his awareness of the need to integrate Arabic texts into the historiography of the crusades and the study of the Latin East (Lewis: p 220); Irwin has stated that Cahen was the most significant force in the twentieth century for ‘determining which Arabic sources on the crusades should be given priority for translation’ (Irwin: p 229).

An extensive biographical study of Cahen’s life and work was written by his son, Michel Cahen, and published in a volume of studies in his honour in 1994.

Select Publications

  • La Syrie du nord à l’époque des croisades et la principauté franque d’Antioche (Paris, 1940).
  • ‘Notes sur l’histoire des croisades et de l’Orient latin: le regime rural syrien au temps de la domination franques’, Bulletin de la Faculté des Lettres de l’Université de Strasbourg, vol 29 (1950/1), pp 286-310.
  • ‘Orient latin et commerce du Levant’, Bulletin de la Faculté des Lettres de l’Université de Strasbourg, vol 29 (1950/1).
  • ‘An Introduction to the First Crusade’, Past and Present, vol 6 (1954), pp 6-29.
  • ‘L’Islam et la Croisade’, Comitato internazionale di scienze storiche: X Congresso internazionale di scienze storiche, Roma 4–11 settembre 1955. Relazioni, vol 3, Storia del Medioevo (Rome, 1955).
  • ‘La féodalité et les institutions politiques de l’Orient latin’, XII Conv Volta Accad Naz dei Lincei (Rome, 1959), pp 167-94.
  • Pre-Ottoman Turkey: A General Survey of the Material and Spiritual Culture and History, c 1071–1330, trans J Jones-Williams (London, 1968).
  • L’Islam: des origines au début de l'empire Ottoman (Paris, 1970).
  • Les peuples musulmans dans l’histoire medievale (Damascus, 1977).
  • Introduction à l’histoire du monde musulman médiéval VIIe–XV siècle. Methodologie et elements de bibliographie (Paris, 1982).
  • Orient et occident au temps des croisades (Paris, 1983).
  • A full bibliography of Cahen’s work can be found in the journal Arabica, vol 43.1 (1996).


M Cahen, ‘L’Historien et le politique: Engagement, pensée scientifique chez Claude Cahen: Réflexions et quelques souvenirs d’un fils sur son père’, Itinéraires de l’Orient: Hommages à Claude Cahen, ed R Curiel and R Gyselen, Res Orientales 6 (Bures-sur-Yvette, 1994), pp 385-442.

R Irwin, ‘Orientalism and the Early Development of Crusading Studies’, The Experience of Crusading, Volume 2: Defining the Crusader Kingdom, ed PW Edbury and JP Phillips (Cambridge, 2003), pp 214-30.

IM Lapidus, ‘Review of Itinéraires de l’Orient’, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol 39.2 (1996), pp 189-90.

B Lewis, ‘Biographical Memoirs: Claude Cahen’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol 141.2 (June 1997), pp 218-20.


Written by: Dr William Purkis