Crusades -> Islam -> changes in gothic Europe... but more specifically...?

I am writing a paper (about how the crusades brought Islamic influence to Europe, and how that can be seen in the art/architecture) and I’m having some trouble with the research because the bits I know are too vague to be very useful to further searching.

For example: I’m pretty sure the pointed arch of the gothic cathedral is pointy because of the influence of Islamic architecture… but none of my search terms are bringing up much useful information (well, we’ll see–I have a few books on their way via inter-library loan)

Another example: I know that Islamic culture preserved the classical/ancient philosophical writings and such that were virtually lost to Europe, and rediscovered when the crusades reconnected those ideas with the West… but I don’t know which philosophers/writings/ideas they were, and my searches are sucking and getting me nowhere. Is that where the seven liberal arts came from?

I need to find these connections and I know they exist, but I don’t know enough to effectively learn more. I’m hoping someone with more of a clue might point me in the right direction?

I know much of Archimedes’ writing was preserved only because of Islam. There is a wonderful recently published book. search for Archimedes Palimpsest.

You can start here.

The author of that Wikipedia article consistently misspelled “‘Abbasid.” Somebody should get in there and fix that.

What’s really interesting is the works that were lost in the original Greek and survived only in Arabic translation. Namely

  • Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics,
  • works of Galen including his epitomes of Plato’s Timaeus and Laws, and a treatise on ethics
  • Books 4 to 7 from the Arithmetics of Diophantus
  • Pappus of Alexandria’s commentary on Euclid’s Elements
  • several of Apollonius of Perga’s works on conic sections
  • the Lemmas and other works of Archimedes
  • Neoplatonic texts by Porphyry, Simplicius, Philoponus, et al.
    to list some examples.

The Muslims’ confusion between Aristotelian philosophy and Neoplatonism is interesting in another way, because starting from Avicenna a synthesis of the rational and the esoteric became the most lasting tendency in Islamic philosophy, producing the “Wisdom of Illumination” taught by Suhrawardi in the 12th century, and this in turn was fused with Sufism by late medieval Persian philosophers, a tradition still studied in the seminaries in Iran to this day.

Shi‘ism took over Iran in the 16th century, and then dogmatically turned against Sufism, even persecuting its practitioners, but they still continued to preserve a living philosophical tradition in which Sufi ideas formed the core along with the Aristotelian-Neoplatonist fusion going back to Avicenna. European histories of Islamic philosophy usually state that it came to an end after Averroës, because that was when it ceased transmitting to Europeans-- but no Westerners noticed that philosophy continued uninterrupted in the eastern Islamic world, until Henry Corbin and Seyyed Hossein Nasr published many studies on this.

This is really helpful, guys! In case you are wondering, the class is a 400-level art history seminar on Gothic cathedrals and our paper has to find some…thing and tie it in some way to some aspect of the cathedrals. I think that a lot of the subject matter in cathedral art changed, for example, adding secular academic subjects to the usual litany of Biblical characters and the lives of clergy, saints, and martyrs.

I swear this paper is going to kill me.

I believe Islamic influence in Europe came more by way of Spain, where Muslims, Jews and Christians coexisted for centuries than by way of the Crusaders bringing things back with them.

A book I just read touches on this:
Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World

But if they’d coexisted for centuries, what changed? If they’d been there all along, wouldn’t the rest of Europe have already had this stuff? Mind you, I’m not saying the Islamic presence in Spain wasn’t significant, because it was. Just that it seems like it was something else that made things spread through the rest of Europe…

Architecture and engineering* depend on geometry. The ancient Greek geometrical and scientific works transmitted to medieval Europe in Arabic translation must have contributed at least indirectly to advances in European architecture around the 13th century. Not to speak of original Muslim contributions to the sciences which were also transmitted. It wasn’t all translated knowledge of the ancients, the medieval Muslims made their own discoveries too. (see Science and Civilization in Islam by Seyyed Hossein Nasr)

*The Arabic word for engineering, handasah, originally meant ‘geometry’.

“The horseshoe form of arch, which became characteristic of Western Moslem [sic] architecture, was represented in northern Syria, Ctesiphon and other places even before Islam. The pointed arch, which later became the distinctive feature of Western Gothic architecture, appears first in Islam in the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus and Qusayr ‘Amrah. The round horseshoe variety was used at the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus. This last type, which became known in the West as the Moorish arch, undoubtedly existed in Spain before the Arab conquest, but it was the Spanish, more particularly the Cordovan Moslems, who realized its structural and decorative possibilities and adopted it generally. Another contribution of Arab Cordova, which was truly original, was the system of vaulting based on intersecting arches and visible intersecting ribs.
–Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs, 10th ed., p. 597 (emphasis added)

Hitti gives examples of Spanish architectural terms that originated from Arabic: adoquin < al-kaddān ‘paving stone’, alacena < al-khizānah ‘cupboard’, albañil < al-bannā’ ‘builder’, alcoba < al-qubbah ‘bedroom’ > English alcove, andamio < al-di‘āmah ‘scaffolding’, azotea < al-suṭayḥah ‘flat roof’, algibe < al-jubb (‘the cistern’), ‘ogive’.

Hitti also mentions (p. 417) that the pointed arch first appeared in 9th-century Egypt in the rebuilt Mosque of ‘Amr (827), the Nilometer (861) and the Ibn Ṭūlūn Mosque (876-9). The Umayyad Mosque of Damascus was built much earlier, 706-715.

Pointed arches seen at:
Umayyad Mosque of Damascus
Qasr ‘Amrah (Jordan c. 711-715)
Mosque of ‘Amr ibn al-‘Āṣ (Cairo)
Another view of the Mosque of ‘Amr
The Nilometer (Cairo)
Ibn Ṭūlūn Mosque (Cairo)
Another view of Ibn Ṭūlūn

Let me know if that helps.

The BBC program “In Our Time” recently ran a discussion on the Arab Translation Movement that might be useful to you.

Keep gathering data. You’ve been given some pretty good leads, but you will be writing the paper. More from Wikipedia:

Of course, it’s not a good idea to use Wikipedia as a source–but check out the sources used to write the articles.

Even more stuff

Looks like you’ve got several questions to answer. Why did “Gothic” architecture become popular in Europe? Were the pointed arches Islamic or European–or maybe both? From El Andaluz or the Crusades–or both? Which Crusade?

Thanks guys! This is very helpful. I’m going to try to get ahold of that book, Johanna.

(And yes, wikipedia is a great source for sources! Obviously I can’t use it as a source on its own, though.)

When was the Toledo library sacked? I seem to remember that that was a watershed moment for classical texts heading to Christian Europe. Also, the pointed arch may have come in via Roger II’s Norman kingdom in Sicily which had quite a lot of Islamic influence. The pointed arch, though, comes into Europe long before the Gothic, and is all over Romanesque Burgundy (Autun, Cluny III, Fontenay, Paray-le-Monial, etc).
Horseshoe arch, BTW, was already current in visigothic Spain before Islam showed up there.

Oh, and Christian Spain was a bit isolated from the rest of mainland Europe, culturally, and at a point finally a lot of the Islamic influence from down there naturally came home with Santiago pilgrims.

I recommend Bannister Fletcher’s History of Architecture. It’s the guide to architectural history and covers all the periods from pre-history to the 20th century. It also has a pretty expansive discussion of cathedrals, and the evolution of the arch. My father and brother call it “The Bible” (they’re architects).

It’s expensive though, so probably best to order it through the library.

Personally I suspect that the Moslem bit might be something of a red herring.

Constantinople was going strong, albeit declining, and only fell in 1453 - it represented a direct line of both Greek and Roman culture that existed long before Islam was invented.

Europe had fallen into decline, well, had become a bunch of near savages compared with Byzantium, and the crusades did bring back ‘culture’ - for example Venice was built with the loot from the sack of Constantinople - which was supposedly a crusade.

I’ve a suspicion that the Renaissance was a result of the decline and fall of Constantinople.

Personally I would be inclined to look at what influenced Islamic culture, rather than viewing it as some sort of cultural source. It is possible that urbanized Islam was quite good at adopting existing ideas/knowledge. For example what we call ‘arabic’ numerals originated in India.

The “Renaissance” that is a thing that supposedly begins in 1400 is iffy-- things were already headed that way shortly before 1200, but it wasn’t pitched as such. There were also mini-Renaissances around 800 and 1000 (partially due to Byzantine influence, of course).
Opal-- there are a number of books on Crusader art and architecture and influence of such in western Europe (start with the bibliography of Snyder’s survey-- the newer edition has a chapter on Crusades). FRDE is right–that the Crusades brought in generically foreign influences–not just Islam but also Byzantine–and that both sources are sort of mixed and conflated (Roger II’s court, for example, was a mishmash of influences). Between pilgrimage and crusade a lot was coming in from all over the place.
Is the paper supposed to be specifically on high French Gothic in the Ile de France? Other regions have much more interesting responses to outside influences.