René Grousset (1885-1952)

Educational Background

Grousset was educated in History at the University of Montpellier.

Career Notes

Grousset was an Orientalist who began his career by studying Asiatic art. After the conclusion of the First World War he was a Professor of History and Geography at the École des langues orientales in Paris, before being appointed Conservateur-Adjoint of the Musée Guimet in 1925. In his later career he held positions at the École des sciences politiques and, from 1933, the Musée Cernuschi, before finally returning to the Musée Guimet as Chief Curator.

Grousset was secretary of the Journal asiatique and a member of France’s Conseil des musées nationaux. He was elected to the Académie française in 1946.
For further information, see the entry on Grousset at

Interests, Influences and Methodologies

Grousset’s early work focused on the history and culture of the oriental world; his publications included work on Chinese art, the Mongols, and the cultural and religious history of the Orient. In terms of crusader studies, however, his most significant publication was his Histoire des croisades et du royaume franc de Jérusalem.

Like Michaud before him, Grousset regarded the ‘colonial’ achievements of the crusaders in the eastern Mediterranean as setting a precedent for the imperialistic activities of his contemporary French state. He concluded his multi-volume Histoire with the following words: ‘The Templars only kept until 1303 the little island of Ruad, to the south of Tortosa, from whence one day – in 1914 – the “Franks” were again to step on Syrian soil’ (Quoted in Riley-Smith: p 2). It remains to be seen whether Hans Eberhard Mayer’s assessment of Grousset’s Histoire will hold true; he wrote in 1981 that it was ‘the one [general history] in which chauvinism in crusade research raised its ugly head for a last time’ (Mayer: p 41).

Contribution to Crusader Studies

Housley has recently described Grousset’s Histoire des croisades as the ‘best-known history of the crusades that was written in French in the twentieth century’ (Housley: p 4), but it is clear that it was not universally well received at the time of its publication. Mayer writes that in the USA, ‘reception ... was cool’, and that the American crusade scholar John L La Monte was particularly critical; he is said to have compared Grousset’s work with that of Reinhold Röhricht and ‘described Grousset as “being longer, less accurate, more prejudiced, more contradictory, but infinitely easier to read”’ (Mayer: p 41). Nevertheless, in spite of these criticisms, the Académie française remember Grousset with the following words: ‘His work is of the utmost importance for our discovery and understanding of Eastern cultures’ (

Select Publications

Histoire de l’Asie, 3 vols (Paris, 1921–2).

Histoire de la philosophie orientale. Inde, Chine, Japon (Paris, 1923).

Le Reveil de l’Asie. L’imperialisme britannique et la revolte des peuples (Paris, 1924).

Histoire de l’Extreme-Orient, 2 vols.(Paris, 1929).

Sur les traces du Bouddha (Paris, 1929).

Histoire des croisades et du royaume franc de Jérusalem, 3 vols (Paris, 1934–6).

L’Empire des steppes. Attila, Genghis-Khan, Tamerlan (Paris, 1939).

L’Épopée des croisades (Paris, 1939).

L’Empire mongol, 2 vols (Paris, 1941).

Les croisades (Paris, 1944).

Le conquérant du monde. Vie de Genghis-Khan (Paris, 1946).

L’Émpire du Levant. Histoire de la question d’Orient (Paris, 1946).

Histoire de l’Arménie des origines à 1071 (Paris, 1947).

Bilan de l’histoire (Paris, 1948).

De la Grece à la Chine (Monaco, 1948).

De la Chine au Japon (Monaco, 1951).

La Chine et son art (Paris, 1951).


R Ellenblum, Crusader Castles and Modern Histories (Cambridge, 2007).

N Housley, Contesting the Crusades (Oxford, 2006).

HE Mayer, ‘America and the Crusades’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol 125.1 (1981), pp 38-45.

JSC Riley-Smith, ‘History, the Crusades and the Latin East, 1095–1204: A Personal View’, Crusaders and Muslims in Twelfth-Century Syria, ed M. Shatzmiller (Leiden, 1993), pp 1-17.

C Tyerman, The Invention of the Crusades (Basingstoke, 1998).


Written by: Dr William Purkis