Eracles (Old French Translation of William of Tyre)

In the late twelfth century Archbishop William of Tyre (d. 29 Sept. 1186) wrote a history in Latin of the kingdom of Jerusalem. Known as the Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum, the text provided an account of the First Crusade and the subsequent political history of the Latin East until 1184, at which point the work abruptly ends. At some point between 1204 and 1234 the Historia was translated into French. Modern historians refer to this translated text as Eracles, because its first sentence describes the Emperor Heraclius entering Jerusalem with the True Cross.

Eracles circulated in both Outremer and the medieval west, and it survives in sixty-four manuscripts dating from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century. The discovery of translated excerpts of the text in Italian, Spanish, and even back into Latin suggest that the text was widely available in the Middle Ages

Shortly – perhaps immediately – after the translation began to circulate in the 1230s, new contributors began to enlarge and update Eracles, adding new material that continued the history past 1184, the end date of William of Tyre’s original text. Forty-eight surviving manuscripts bear witness to this enormously complex process of redaction and continuation. Since many of these manuscripts and their textual traditions have yet to be studied in detail, much work remains to be done on the various traditions of Eracles and its continuations. The most recent research, conducted by a team of scholars under the direction of Professor Peter Edbury at Cardiff University, has begun to shed some light on the complex interrelationships between the traditions.

The earliest compilers drew from the texts they had on hand, such as the Ernoul-Bernard compilation, another major French history that chronicled the events of the Latin East from the establishment of the kingdom of Jerusalem until the early 1230s. Further continuations and revisions were undertaken in the 1240s which, together with the Ernoul-Bernard text and the Eracles text itself, were used as the basis for a new set of continuations written in Acre and hence known as the Acre Continuation. Among those manuscripts was one particular variant now known as the Lyon Eracles. A third tradition of Eracles continuations was composed in the West shortly after 1261. This tradition, know to historians as the Rothelin Continuation, highlights the crusade of Theobald of Champagne (the Barons’ Crusade of 1239-1240) and the first crusade of King Louis IX of France (1248-1254).

The first French translation and the specific versions of William of Tyre’s Histoire d’Outremer can be found on the following pages: