The use of hostages as a means of guarantee was most common in the medieval period in diplomatic and military encounters. The Crusades offer an excellent opportunity to study this institution in the context of intercultural relations and conflict. After briefly considering precedent traditions in Western Europe, Byzantium, and the Islamic world, this article examines the various specific functions hostages served: as guarantors of short-term agreements, such as those for safe passage or for the end of a siege, and of longer-term undertakings, such as treaties, alliances, and promises of ransom. The siege of Acre brings together many of these various functions in a single episode. The article closes by addressing two questions: the effectiveness of hostages as a means of surety; and the role of cultural difference in determining the outcome of hostage transactions and how they were viewed by contemporaries.
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