Joshua Prawer (1917–1990)

Educational Background

Prawer was born in Polish Silesia in 1917. He went to Palestine to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1936, where his interest in the history of the Latin settlements of the Levant was stimulated by Richard Koebner.

Career Notes

Prawer took a teaching appointment at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1947. He was made a Professor of Medieval History in 1958, and was dean of the Faculty of Humanities from 1961–5. Prawer was also involved in the foundation of the University of Haifa and Ben-Gurion University, and in the reform of secondary education in Israel. His wider academic responsibilities included his chairmanship of the Humanities Section of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and academic chairmanship of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.

Prawer received considerable international recognition for his contribution to medieval studies in general and to crusading history in particular. His accolades included being elected as a Corresponding Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America (1967), being awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Montpellier (1969), and being made a Visiting Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford (1974).

Interests, Influences and Methodologies

Prawer’s research on the crusader states was unquestionably influenced by his working environment; as one group of scholars put it, ‘Living, as he did, on the scene of the events he described, he could fully exploit the advantage which he held over his illustrious predecessors in this particular field. It sharpened his understanding of the geopolitical context of the world in which the crusaders lived and of their, as well as their opponents’ strategic concepts’ (Constable, Setton and Mayer: p 728). Furthermore, in Tyerman’s assessment of the roots of Prawer’s interest in ideas of colonialism, ‘it is clear that the experience of living in Palestine and Israel has exerted a profound influence on the historical interpretations of Prawer and his disciples, as well as provoking sharpened perceptions of the region’s past’ (Tyerman: p 123). More recently, Riley-Smith has stressed that, for Prawer, ‘the portrayal of the crusaders as proto-colonialists was in accord with Zionism’s interpretation of the history of the Promised Land since the diaspora’ (Riley-Smith 2005: p 304), although Ellenblum notes that ‘If Joshua Prawer were alive today he would no doubt deny any linkage between his Zionist political beliefs and the model of segregation that he developed’ (Ellenblum: p 57).

Contribution to Crusader Studies

Prawer’s major contributions to crusader studies are associated with his work on the Latin settlement of the eastern Mediterranean and the foundation of the so-called ‘crusader states’. Here, his work stressed the colonial character of Frankish rule and the segregated or ‘apartheid’ nature of contacts between the Latin settlers of the Levant and their subject populations. For Prawer, crusader society was not characterised by practices of acculturation but rather by the introduction to the Holy Land of a western European way of life and the maintenance of political, cultural and social boundaries between Franks and non-Franks.

But that is not to say that Prawer’s interests and expertise in the history of the Latin East were not wide-ranging; in an assessment of his contribution published after his death it was written that ‘There is hardly a facet of the state and society of the crusaders upon which Prawer did not touch’ (Constable, Setton and Mayer: p 728). Jonathan Riley-Smith has stated that, along with Jean Richard, Prawer ‘wrote institutional studies of lasting value and ... rewrote the constitutional history of the kingdom of Jerusalem’ (Riley-Smith 1997: p 2), and for one group of scholars writing in the early 1980s it was ‘on the laws of the kingdom and on the courts in which those laws were interpreted and applied that some of Prawer’s most distinguished research has been done’ (Kedar, Mayer and Smail: p 2).

Prawer was also a hugely significant figure in Israeli academic scholarship. (Several of his former students, including Benjamin Z. Kedar and Yvonne Friedman, acknowledged his influence on their careers and their approaches to working in crusader studies in their contributions to this project.) Prawer’s contribution to the field was also acknowledged in print in 1982, when the proceedings of a conference held in Jerusalem were published as Outremer: Studies in the History of the Crusading Kingdom of Jerusalem Presented to Joshua Prawer.

Select Publications

‘Colonization Activities in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem’, Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire, vol 29 (1951), pp 1063-1118.

‘The Settlement of the Latins in Jerusalem’, Speculum, vol 27 (1952), pp 490-503.

‘Etude de quelques problèmes agraires et sociaux d’une seigneuire croisée au XIIIe siècle’, Byzantion, vol 22 (1952), pp 5-6; vol 23 (1953), pp 143-69.

‘Les premier temps de la féodalité dans le royaume latin de Jérusalem’, Revue d’histoire du droit, vol 22 (1954), pp 401-24.

‘Étude préliminaire sur les sources et la composition du Livre des Assises des Bourgeois’, Rev hist de droit français et étranger, vol 32 (1954), pp 198-227, 358-82.

‘La noblesse et le regime feudal du royaume latin de Jérusalem’, Le Moyen Age vol 65 (1959), pp 41-74. [English transation by FL Cheyette, Lordship and Community in Mediaeval Europe (1968), pp 156-79.]

Jerusalem: Living City (Jerusalem, 1968).

Histoire du royaume latin de Jérusalem, 2 vols (Paris, 1969–71).

The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem: European Colonialism in the Middle Ages (London, 1972).

The World of the Crusaders (London, 1972).

‘The Armenians in Jerusalem under the Crusaders’, Armenian and Biblical Studies, ed ME Stone (Jerusalem, 1976), pp 222-36.

‘Crusader Cities’, The Medieval City: Studies in Honour of Robert S Lopez, ed HA Miskimin, D Herlihy and AL Udovitch (New Haven and London, 1977), pp 179-99.

‘Jérusalem terrestre, Jérusalem céleste. Jérusalem dans la perspective chrétienne et juive au haut Moyen Age at à la veille de la première croisade’, Jérusalem: l’Unique et l’Universel. Colloques d’intellectuels juifs de langue française (Vandôme, 1979), pp 17-27.

Crusader Institutions (Oxford, 1980)

‘Jerusalem in the Christian and Jewish Perspectives of the Early Middle Ages’, Settimane di studio del Centro italiano di studi sull’alto medioevo, 26 (Spoleto, 1980), pp 1-57.

‘The Jerusalem the Crusaders Captured: A Contribution to the Medieval Topography of the City’, Crusade and Settlement: Papers Read at the First Conference of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East and Presented to RC Smail, ed PW Edbury (Cardiff, 1985), pp 1-14.

‘Social Classes in the Crusader States: The “Minorities”’, A History of the Crusades, Volume 5: The Impact of the Crusades on the Near East, ed NP Zacour and HW Hazard (Madison, Wisc , 1985), pp 59-115.

‘Social Classes in the Latin Kingdom: The Burgesses’, A History of the Crusades, Volume 5: The Impact of the Crusades on the Near East, ed NP Zacour and HW Hazard (Madison, Wisc , 1985).

‘The Roots of Medieval Colonialism’, The Meeting of Two Worlds: Cultural Exchange between East and West during the Period of the Crusades, ed V Goss and C Bornstein (Kalamazoo, MI, 1986), pp 23-38

A History of the Jews in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Oxford, 1988)

An extensive bibliography of Prawer’s publications to 1981 can be found in Outremer: Studies in the History of the Crusading Kingdom of Jerusalem Presented to Joshua Prawer (Jerusalem, 1982), pp 7-13.


G Constable, KM Setton and HE Mayer, ‘Memoirs of Fellows and Corresponding Fellows of the Medieval Academy of America: Joshua Prawer’, Speculum, vol 66.3 (1991), pp 727-9.

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

BZ Kedar, HE Mayer and RC Smail, ‘Joshua Prawer – An Appreciation’, Outremer: Studies in the History of the Crusading Kingdom of Jerusalem Presented to Joshua Prawer (Jerusalem, 1982), pp 1-4.

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.

JSC Riley-Smith, The Crusades: A History, 2nd Edition (London, 2005).

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


Written by: Dr William Purkis