RC Smail (1913–1986)

Career Notes

Smail was a fellow and tutor of Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge.

Contribution to Crusader Studies

Smail’s most significant contribution to the field was his study of Crusading Warfare (1097–1193), which was published in 1956 and is now regarded as a ‘classic text’ and the first ‘rigorous’ military history of crusading (Housley: p 42). This wide-ranging work not only considered the history of conflicts fought in the twelfth-century Latin East, but also contained important analyses of the subject’s intellectual hinterland. As one reviewer put it in 1957, Smail’s analysis ‘includes appraisal of the military potential of the several social groups native to Syria, racial and religious; the resources of the Latin states, economic and military; the military organization and methods of Latin and Muslim armies; their weapons as well as their tactics; and, finally, the nature and function of the Crusaders’ castles’ (Krey: p 378). A revised edition of Crusading Warfare, with a new bibliographical introduction and an updated bibliography prepared by Christopher Marshall, was published by Cambridge University Press in 1994.

Smail’s work was also significant for its revisionist approach to the nature of Frankish settlement in the eastern Mediterranean. Like Prawer, Smail refuted the idea that the crusader states were examples of ‘benevolent colonialism’, stressing instead the segregationalist and exploitative nature of Frankish society. According to Ellenblum, ‘Raymond Smail of Cambridge and Joshua Prawer of Jerusalem were the first to develop the basic principles of the new approach [to the history of crusader settlement in the Levant], describing Frankish society as set aside both spatially and economically from the local subjects’ (Ellenblum: p 49).

Smail was also highly influential in the careers of several other prominent crusade historians; Jonathan Riley-Smith and Sylvia Schein were numbered amongst his research students in Cambridge. In 1986 Riley-Smith dedicated his The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading to Smail, acknowledging that his former supervisor was ‘the historian to whom I owe most’. Smail’s contribution to crusader studies was also recognised in print in 1985, when the proceedings of the first conference of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East were published in his honour as Crusade and Settlement.

Select Publications

‘Crusaders’ Castles in the Twelfth Century’, Cambridge Historical Journal, vol 10 (1951), pp 133-49.

Crusading Warfare (1097–1193) (Cambridge, 1956).

‘Latin Syria and the West, 1149–1187’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th Series, 19 (1969), pp 1-20.

The Crusaders in Syria and the Holy Land (London, 1973).

‘The International Status of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1150–92’, The Eastern Mediterranean Lands in the Period of the Crusades, ed PM Holt (Warminster, 1977), pp 23-43.

‘The Predicaments of Guy of Lusignan’, Outremer: Studies in the History of the Crusading Kingdom of Jerusalem Presented to Joshua Prawer (Jerusalem, 1982), pp 159-76.


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

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

AC Krey, ‘Review of Crusading Warfare’, The American Historical Review, vol 62.2 (1957), pp 378-9.



Written by: Dr William Purkis