Robert Irwin

Contact Details



When and where did you initially develop an interest in the history of the crusades and/or the Latin East?

At the age of ten or so I acquired a beautifully illustrated child’s history of the crusades.  (I wish I could rediscover it.)  A year or two later I borrowed Runciman’s History of the Crusades from Woking public library and was entranced by the exotic names and genealogical tables.  A few years later I got my own Runciman in the form of a school prize.

Who or what sparked your enthusiasm for the subject?

Additionally a young history master at my public school (Epsom) was nuts about Reynald de Chatillon and got me doing research on him at the British Museum Library.


Please provide details of your Higher Education, including dates, institution(s) and the name(s) of your research supervisors.

I read Modern History (sic) at Oxford, 1964-7. Two of my tutors, Ralph Davis and Roger Highfield were very interested in the Crusades.

From 1967-72 I failed to complete a thesis at SOAS, London, on the Mamluk Reconquest of the Crusader States. My supervisor was Bernard Lewis.

Career History

Please provide details of your academic career history, including confirmation of your current institutional affiliation and contact details.

Unfinished thesis notwithstanding, from 1972-7 I taught in the Mediaeval History Department of St Andrews and lectured on the crusades and Byzantium, among other things.  (Riley-Smith had precede me in this.)

Subsequently I resigned to become a house-husband and novelist.  I also taught Arabic and Middle Eastern History part time in various years at Oxford, Cambridge and SOAS.  Eventually I started publishing non-fiction on Middle Eastern history and culture, as well as the novels.  I also co-founded a publishing company and became a consulting editor at the Times Literary Supplement.

I have an honorific post as Senior Research Associate of the History Department of the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Influences and Methodologies

What ideas and/or methodologies have informed your approach to your research?

John Wansbrough was one of my teachers at SOAS.  I loved his reliance on Quellenkritik, his quest for topoi, his deep familiarity with German source criticism as applied to the Bible and his readiness to question absolutely everything even in texts which seemed completely innocuous and transparent.
Michael Baxandall’s work on Italian Renaissance art strongly influenced my approach to Islamic art history.  While teaching at St Andrews I fell under the thrall of Braudel’s study of the Mediterranean, but it was not so much the Annales methodology as his style which enthralled me.  In general I prefer style to methodology.  TS Eliot remarks somewhere that for the literary critic the only methodology is to be very clever.
I have been most impressed by Ronnie Ellenblum’s work on the Christian and Crusader settlements in Palestine and his more recent work on castles.  Earlier, Emmanuel Sivan’s ‘L’Islam et le Croisade’ covered a huge amount of difficult ground most intelligently.  In Mamluk studies, Ulrich Harrmann was a genius who died tragically young.  He was a pioneer in using European sources to shed light on Mamluk society, in using folkloric sources, in study the descendants of mamluks and in much else besides.

Research Outlook

What do you consider to be the most important avenues for future research in the field of crusader studies?

The use of a much wider range of Arabic sources – not just the plodding chronicles of Abu’l-Fida and al-Maqrizi, but more literary sources, including poems, folktales and maqamat.  I also suspect that Jewish sources are underused.

Research Output

Please provide details of your research output, including publications and other media as appropriate.

I have published a lot on Islamic studies, especially Mamluk studies (not to mention stuff on erotica, roller-blading, pinball, mysticism and indexing, as well as fiction).  But I here list only those publications that seem relevant, however vaguely, to the history of the crusades.

  • The  Middle East in the Middle Ages: The Early  Mamluk  Sultanate 1250-1382 (Croom Helm, 1986).
  • ‘Iqta and the end of the Crusader States’, in PM Holt (ed), The  Eastern  Mediterranean Lands in the Period of  the  Crusades (Aris and Phillips, 1977), pp 62-73.
  • ‘The Supply of Money and the Direction of Trade in Thirteenth-­Century Syria’, in Coinage in the Latin East, British Archaeologi­cal Reports, International Series, vol 77, (1980), pp 73-104.
  • ‘The Mamluk Conquest of the County of Tripoli’, in PW  Edbury(ed), Crusade  and  Settlement,  (University  College,  Cardiff Press, 1985), pp 246-9.
  • ‘Egypt, Syria and their Trading Partners, 1450-1550’, in R Pinner and WB Denny (eds), Oriental Carpet and Textile Studies II, (Hali, London, 1986), pp 73-82.
  • ‘How Many Miles to Babylon? The Devise des Chemins de Babiloine Redated.’  in Malcolm Barber (ed) The Miltary Orders: Fighting for the Faith and Caring for the Sick, (Variorum, Aldershot, 1994), pp 57-63.
  • ‘Islam and the Crusades 1096-1699’, in J Riley-Smith (ed) The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades,  (Oxford, 1995) pp 217-259.
  • ‘The Mamluk Invasion of Cyprus’, in Historia The Kyprou,  (Nicosia, 1995), pp 159-176 (in Greek).
  • Articles for Chronicles  of the Crusades,  ed by E Hallam, (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1989).
  • ‘Muslim Responses to the Crusades’, History Today, (April, 1997), pp 43-9.
  • ‘Usamah ibn Munqidh, an Arab Syrian Gentleman at the Time of the Crusades, Reconsidered’, in John France and William Zajac (eds), The Crusades and Their Sources: Studies presented to Bernard Hamilton, (Variorum, 1998), pp 71-87.
  • ‘The Impact of the First Crusade on the Muslim World’, in L Garcia-Guijarro Ramos (ed), La primera cruzada, novecientos anos después: el concilio de Clermont y los origines del movimento cruzado, (Madrid, 1998), pp 137-51.
  • ‘The Rise of the Mamluks’, in David Abulafia (ed), The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol 5, (Cambridge, 1999),  pp 607-21.
  • ‘The Mamluk Administration of the Territories Conquered from the Crusaders’, in Uluslarasi Haçli Sefereleri Sempozyu  (proceedings of the 1997 Istanbul Conference on the History of the Crusades under the auspices of theTurkish Historical Society), (Ankara, 1999), pp 123-33.
  • ‘Under Western Eyes: A History of Mamluk Studies’, in Mamluk Studies Review, vol 4, (2000) pp 27-51.
  • ‘Orientalism and the Early Development of Crusading Studies’, in Peter Edbury and Jonathan Phillips (eds), The Experience of Crusading, vol 2 Defining the Crusader Kingdom, (Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp 214-30.
  • ‘Gunpowder and Firearms in the Mamluk Kingdom Reconsidered’, in Michael Winter and Amalia Levanoni (eds), The Mamluks in Egyptian and Syrian Politics and Society, (Brill, Leiden, 2004), pp 117-39.
  • ‘Mamluk History and Historians’, in Roger Allen and DS Richards eds, The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature: Arabic Literature in the Post-Classical Period, (Cambridge University Press, 2006). pp 159-70.
  • Foreword to a reissue of Sir Hamilton Gibb, The Life of Saladin (Al-Saqi, 2006) pp vii-xviii.
  • Articles for Alan V Murray (ed), The Encyclopedia of the Crusades  4 vols., (ABC-Clio, 2006).