Feeling Like a Holy Warrior: Western Authors’ Attributions of Emotion as Proof of Motives for Violence Among Christian Actors in Military Conflicts, Tenth Through Early Twelfth Centuries

Jilana Ordman, Loyola University ChicagoFollow

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This dissertation explores two areas of human experience that have been criticized as potentially dangerous and uncontrollable almost consistently since Late Antiquity: violence and those who engage in it, and emotions. However, it will be seen that in the Western Mediterranean and Southern and Central Western Europe, from Late Antiquity through the early-Twelfth Century, these areas were carefully controlled and directed by complex philosophical and religious systems.

Polytheist Roman, and later patristic Christian, authors who wrote within classical and late antique philosophical and religious systems created the accepted norms for the undertaking of organized violence – that which was fought under recognized leadership and undertaken for an acceptable moral or ethical goal. These authors also constructed norms for acceptable experiences and expressions of emotions such as anger, fear, courage, joy, sorrow and religious devotion. This project demonstrates that attitudes toward both violence and emotion changed slowly over time as the Christian faith rose to dominance in the Roman Empire; the western Roman Empire dissolved into Christian successor kingdoms; Christian insitutions in the West grew in number and complexity as well as territorial and cultural influence; and territorial conflicts inside Europe and conflicts on and beyond its borders classified by contemporaneaous and later historians as holy wars and crusades brought Christians face to face with new forces they perceived as enemies who threatened the faith.

This dissertation examines a large number of clerically authored and influenced juridical, prescriptive, narrative, and epistolary texts composed from Late Antiquity through the Early Twelfth Century, for evidence of attitudes toward and definitions of emotions, and attitudes toward organized violence. Changes over time in attitudes concerning organized violence and methods for judging those who shed blood will be seen in juridical texts by popes and other ecclesiastical or monastic leaders. Christians came to be seen as able to consciously direct their emotions for the benefit of their religious devotion, in order to avoid or gain forgiveness for sin and to help them move closer to God. Changes in emotion will be seen in clerically authored and influenced textual accounts of organized violence, and in the emotions attributed to Christian participants, from the tenth through twelfth centuries. These authors will be seen to have described emotions to provide evidence of actors motives for violence, that which seperated those who sinned by shedding blood out of greed from those who used violence out of love to correct enemies for their own good and to protect fellow Christians.

As will be briefly discussed in the conclusion to this project, modern scientific research on emotions suggests that these systems also influenced historical actors internal neurobiological experiences. But as I argue from a culturalist historical perspective throughout this project, changes in their experiences were equally the products of texts by western clerical authors, and lay authors writing with clerical influence, in which changes over time in emotions and attitudes toward violence are seen.

Recommended Citation

Ordman, Jilana, “Feeling Like a Holy Warrior: Western Authors’ Attributions of Emotion as Proof of Motives for Violence Among Christian Actors in Military Conflicts, Tenth Through Early Twelfth Centuries” (2013). Dissertations. Paper 679.