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The Crusades is an authoritative, accessible single-volume history of the brutal struggle for the Holy Land in the Middle Ages. Thomas Asbridge—a renowned historian who writes with “maximum vividness” (Joan Acocella, The New Yorker)—covers the years 1095 to 1291 in this  big, ambitious, readable account of one of the most fascinating periods in history. From Richard the Li The Crusades is an authoritative, accessible single-volume history of the brutal struggle for the Holy Land in the Middle Ages. Thomas Asbridge—a renowned historian who writes with “maximum vividness” (Joan Acocella, The New Yorker)—covers the years 1095 to 1291 in this  big, ambitious, readable account of one of the most fascinating periods in history. From Richard the Lionheart to the mighty Saladin, from the emperors of Byzantium to the Knights Templar, Asbridge’s book is a magnificent epic of Holy War between the Christian and Islamic worlds, full of adventure, intrigue, and sweeping grandeur.


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The Crusades is an authoritative, accessible single-volume history of the brutal struggle for the Holy Land in the Middle Ages. Thomas Asbridge—a renowned historian who writes with “maximum vividness” (Joan Acocella, The New Yorker)—covers the years 1095 to 1291 in this  big, ambitious, readable account of one of the most fascinating periods in history. From Richard the Li The Crusades is an authoritative, accessible single-volume history of the brutal struggle for the Holy Land in the Middle Ages. Thomas Asbridge—a renowned historian who writes with “maximum vividness” (Joan Acocella, The New Yorker)—covers the years 1095 to 1291 in this  big, ambitious, readable account of one of the most fascinating periods in history. From Richard the Lionheart to the mighty Saladin, from the emperors of Byzantium to the Knights Templar, Asbridge’s book is a magnificent epic of Holy War between the Christian and Islamic worlds, full of adventure, intrigue, and sweeping grandeur.

30 review for The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land

  1. 5 out of 5

    Myke Cole

    You’d be hard pressed to find a topic more politically charged than the Crusades, especially as the world sloughs out of our War on Terror hangover, and fumbles into the terrorscape of cyber threats and subornment of the United States. People feel *really* strongly about what the Crusades should mean, and how they should be interpreted. The pressure to cleave to a political narrative when writing about this has to be incredibly strong. And it is to Asbridge’s credit that he resists it. Instead, h You’d be hard pressed to find a topic more politically charged than the Crusades, especially as the world sloughs out of our War on Terror hangover, and fumbles into the terrorscape of cyber threats and subornment of the United States. People feel *really* strongly about what the Crusades should mean, and how they should be interpreted. The pressure to cleave to a political narrative when writing about this has to be incredibly strong. And it is to Asbridge’s credit that he resists it. Instead, he faithfully interprets the contemporary sources, more or less ignoring the massive tower of secondary scholarship that has both illuminated and influenced the field. Asbridge uses his extensive background in the period to interpret contemporary writers, but he also approaches the material with an empathy and a face-value commitment that’s refreshing and rare. To put it simply: Asbridge gets the medieval mind, both in the Muslim and Christian worlds, and the result is a much more even-handed look at the motivations behind the crusading phenomena. It doesn’t hurt that Asbridge has a brisk prose style that brings the narrative drama to the fore without sacrificing scholarship in the process. The crusades are, of course, a war-story, but Asbridge rightly puts the focus on the mental and emotional motivators behind the warriors, rather than straying into war-porn topics of gear, deployment and descriptions of casualties. Highly recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    This is a fantastic narrative history of the Crusades from the First Crusade at the end of the 11th Century right up till the end of Christian Outremer in the 1290s when Islam regained control of the Levant after nearly 200 years of 'occupation' by the Latin Christians. A really gripping, page-turning read, as Tom Asbridge writes fluidly with a really straightforward prose that is just packed full of interesting facts, analyses and hypothesis. This book, for 680 pages, covers all the main histor This is a fantastic narrative history of the Crusades from the First Crusade at the end of the 11th Century right up till the end of Christian Outremer in the 1290s when Islam regained control of the Levant after nearly 200 years of 'occupation' by the Latin Christians. A really gripping, page-turning read, as Tom Asbridge writes fluidly with a really straightforward prose that is just packed full of interesting facts, analyses and hypothesis. This book, for 680 pages, covers all the main historical figures that this epoch threw up in the history books, such as Richard the Lionheart, probably the most successful warrior-king for the whole 200 years in the Levant and his contemporary Saladin, again probably the most successful Islamic ruler in the same period, the Baldwins of Jerusalem, Queen Melisende and so on. Pivotal figures in the history of the Crusades. I knew so little really about this era and what with the BBC TV series presented by Thomas Asbridge recently along with his condensed one book history of all main five Crusades, really opened my eyes and increased my knowledge of the Middle Ages. The author just does not exclusively focus upon the Western Christian aspect however, instead he also examines the Islamic leaders focusing mainly on the Ayyubid dynasty of Saladin and his heirs, explaining the fractured divisive religion that Islam was at the start of the 12th Century which probably allowed the extreme success and luck that the First Crusade had in conquering Jerusalem in 1099 that allowed them to gain a foothold in the Levant that then became known as the 'Outremer'. What surprised me the most however, is that the success of the First Crusade was never really repeated in the next 200 years - all the other four main crusades never really had the same level of success - maybe the Third Crusade under Richard Lionheart stopped Saladin from reconquering the Levant, but again indecisiveness allowed that crusade also to flounder. In fact, they all really fail afterwards some quite drastically. Also, at the end of this book, Thomas Asbridge then brings us to the present day and the current conflict in the middle-east and tries to suggest that there really is no and should not be any relationship between what happened 800 years ago and the current conflict between radical Islam and the West today. He then goes on to claim that any similarities in the rhetoric of using Crusade metaphors is plain wrong, that history has been distorted and that the Crusades were a specific product at a particular stage in history, and that not only did the Christians claim land, but it increased trade and encouraged the swapping of ideas between Islam and the West that would later help the Renaissance develop. I found it really interesting final chapter. A good read, and it has left my appetite hungry for more studying, not only of this epoch, but also for understanding more about the Middle-Ages too. 5 stars.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    I have always been interested in the Crusades and I found this book to be a wonderful introduction to the subject. It covers two centuries of strife in the Middle East and the struggle for Jerusalem. Plus ca change. The Crusades were a chaotic series of expeditions inspired by papal exhortations and promises of forgiveness of sin through a just war - the innovative use of indulgences was to rebound a while later to massive effect. What caught me was the sheer incompetence of it all. Crusades were I have always been interested in the Crusades and I found this book to be a wonderful introduction to the subject. It covers two centuries of strife in the Middle East and the struggle for Jerusalem. Plus ca change. The Crusades were a chaotic series of expeditions inspired by papal exhortations and promises of forgiveness of sin through a just war - the innovative use of indulgences was to rebound a while later to massive effect. What caught me was the sheer incompetence of it all. Crusades were invariably lost, scattered or dissipated against targets such as Byzantium or Egypt rather than the Holy Land. This makes it all the more remarkable that the crusades managed to carve out a series of principalities in Palestine and Syria, and that these endured for the best part of two centuries. I liked the way that Asbridge provided the Islamic slant on the struggles. In a way the crusaders hit a sweet spot in that they struck at a border zone between competing Islamic states. Palestine was relatively unimportant compared to the great centres of Egypt and Mesopotamia, that is until the Islamic reaction set in and it became politically powerful to be seen to be championing Islam against the infidels. Sprinkled into the mix are the great characters from the era, people such as Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, Saint Louis and lesser known but equally compelling people like the leper king Baldwin IV, Bohemond I and Queen Isabella. In large part the proto states in this era were melded and agglomerated by "big men" (usually men) - only to fall apart amidst dynastic feuding on their death. A good read

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    BBC FOUR: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01b3ftw Description: Dr Thomas Asbridge presents a revelatory account of the Crusades, the 200-year war between Christians and Muslims for control of the Holy Land. The story of the Crusades is remembered as a tale of religious fanaticism and unspeakable violence, but now fresh research, eyewitness testimony and contemporary evidence from both the Christian and Islamic worlds shed new light on how these two great religions waged war in the name of God. Epi BBC FOUR: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01b3ftw Description: Dr Thomas Asbridge presents a revelatory account of the Crusades, the 200-year war between Christians and Muslims for control of the Holy Land. The story of the Crusades is remembered as a tale of religious fanaticism and unspeakable violence, but now fresh research, eyewitness testimony and contemporary evidence from both the Christian and Islamic worlds shed new light on how these two great religions waged war in the name of God. Episode one: HOLY WAR: traces the epic journey of the first crusaders as they marched 3,000 miles from Europe to recapture the city of Jerusalem from Islam, enduring starvation, disease and bloodthirsty battle to reach their sacred goal, and then unleashed an appalling tide of barbaric violence upon their Muslim enemies. Yet far from being the invincible holy warriors of legend, Dr Asbridge reveals that these crusaders actually considered surrender in the midst of their titanic expedition. Episode two: CLASH OF THE TITANS: Dr Thomas Asbridge offers a piercing examination of the Third Crusade and the two renowned figures who have come to embody Crusader war: Richard the Lionheart, king of England, and the mighty Muslim sultan Saladin, unifier of Islam. Drawing on fascinating eyewitness accounts and contemporary records, Dr Asbridge constructs an insightful and nuanced picture of these men and their fiercely fought struggle for the Holy Land. Almost perfectly matched as adversaries, these two titans of holy war clashed during a year-long campaign that raged across Palestine. Both were willing to commit appalling atrocities in pursuit of victory. Each brought the full force of his military genius, guile and cunning to bear, all in pursuit of the ultimate prize: Jerusalem. Dr Asbridge reveals how this shattering conflict brought Saladin and Richard to their knees, even as it served to forge their legends.Watch here Episode 3: VICTORY AND DEFEAT: In the concluding episode of the series, Dr Thomas Asbridge reveals that the outcome of these epic holy wars was decided not on the hallowed ground of Jerusalem, but in Egypt. As trade blossomed between Christians and Muslims and the Mongol hordes arrived from Asia, a saintly French king - afire with crusading zeal - and the most remarkable Muslim leader of the Middle Ages fought for ultimate victory in the East. Drawing upon eyewitness chronicles and the latest archaeological evidence, Dr Asbridge argues that it was a fearsome slave-warrior from the Russian Steppes - now forgotten in the West - who finally sealed the fate of the crusades. And, most controversially of all, Asbridge challenges the popular misconception that the medieval crusades sparked a clash of civilisations between Islam and the West that continues to this day.Watch here The statue of Sultan Saladin in Kerak, Jordan It is good to remember that forces swept out of Arabia into Palestine and these following crusades were to regain Jerusalem for Christianity. I reference the erudite A History of Palestine 634-1099. There is no accounting for the savagery committed by both sides in the name of God, yet the siege of Acre surely takes the biscuit. Shame on both your houses, then and now. The content here is thorough, scholarly and truly well researched, however Asbridge is not a presenter I enjoy watching, he would have been better putting his hands in his pockets or held them behind his back. I know, that is purely subjective.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sean

    A fine and concise overview of a complex, two centuries long cycle of conquest - first Western, then Muslim. I say concise because even at nearly 700 pages of text, it's obvious that any given chapter of this book could itself be expanded into a more detailed volume. I'm casually familiar with medieval history and the crusades, but as it turns out, I didn't really know what a crusade was, how one was orchestrated, what the participants believed they were participating in, how crusades changed ove A fine and concise overview of a complex, two centuries long cycle of conquest - first Western, then Muslim. I say concise because even at nearly 700 pages of text, it's obvious that any given chapter of this book could itself be expanded into a more detailed volume. I'm casually familiar with medieval history and the crusades, but as it turns out, I didn't really know what a crusade was, how one was orchestrated, what the participants believed they were participating in, how crusades changed over two centuries, and how they fit into the political landscape of the day. In this, I'm reminded of Mary Beard's book on Roman triumphs; you think you know what's involved - red face paint, a chariot, a little parade - but the answer is more complex than that. Of course, maybe at some level history is unknowable, and we're always forced to oversimplify and take shortcuts. Bad philosophy notwithstanding, I know a little more about the crusading wars than I did before. Highlights: * Ad din means "of the faith." Hence Nasir al Din, or more famously Salah ad Din, Saladin ("the righteousness of the faith"). Saladin! Cool. * Warfare in the 11th, 12th, 13th centuries was a decidedly less than dynamic affair. Sieges were the order of the day; smart generals avoided open battle unless they had either overwhelming numbers or some perceived advantage to balance out the risk of annihilation. Disease ran rampant, and killed high and low alike. Logistics were unthinkably alien to the modern eye - land transport slow, exposed and costly, sea transport slow, exposed, and costly. Heavily armored knights cost a small fortune to field, and generally constituted only a small portion of overall army size. * Neither side was a monolith. Both the Christians and Muslims were riven with internal divisions, and neither viewed the conflict (or series of conflicts) as an existential, top-tier priority. Both sides had inconsistent leadership. The Christians in particular suffered from a lack of focus, given the nature of crusading as a personal act of devotion, and not a life-long calling. * Battles on the Nile! This was news to me. Of note, the Christians fought two battles in the delta (separated by many years), and both time the Muslims managed to sneak ships behind them to block their escape. Ouch. * Baybars and the rise of the Mamluk slave soldiers. This guy was almost certainly a sociopath, but a very clever and persistent one. No chivalrous legends are told about him in the West, and with good reason. Note to self: don't create an empire based on the military prowess of slave soldiers and expect them not to stage a coup and seize the reins of power. Lots of other good stuff in here. It's not a quick read, but worth the work.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    I am fairly certain that I have read more history books than is typical for a 24-year-old girl, perhaps more than is typical for a 50-year-old man. So, I have been around the history book block a time or two. I have slowly been starting to get more and more interested in the earlier decades of the creation of nations or empires in Europe. The Crusades have always been a fairly basic given to me, Christians went to war to promote Christianity and take back Jerusalem. Cool? Reading this book, I re I am fairly certain that I have read more history books than is typical for a 24-year-old girl, perhaps more than is typical for a 50-year-old man. So, I have been around the history book block a time or two. I have slowly been starting to get more and more interested in the earlier decades of the creation of nations or empires in Europe. The Crusades have always been a fairly basic given to me, Christians went to war to promote Christianity and take back Jerusalem. Cool? Reading this book, I really enjoyed the fairly unbiased look at both the Christian and Islamic camps in these struggles. It is easy to gloss over certain factors whether in favour of Christianity or Islam so equally presenting the mythic and the real, probable reasons behind actions was fantastic. It was a thorough look at the Crusades, the reasons, the preparations, the decisions, the battles and the outcomes, through the eyes of both Christian and Islamic warriors. For an overview of the entire saga of the Crusades, this was definitely a good book to read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rindis

    Authoritative - adj. "having or showing impressive knowledge about a subject" Asbridge's 'authoritative history' of the Crusades certainly does this. It is a very extensive look at the period in a single volume. There are problems; I think there is still not enough examination of what was going on in the Muslim world around the Crusader States, and the role of Byzantium in the area is barely touched on most of the time. But, neither are these absent. In fact, the role of Byzantine cooperation with Authoritative - adj. "having or showing impressive knowledge about a subject" Asbridge's 'authoritative history' of the Crusades certainly does this. It is a very extensive look at the period in a single volume. There are problems; I think there is still not enough examination of what was going on in the Muslim world around the Crusader States, and the role of Byzantium in the area is barely touched on most of the time. But, neither are these absent. In fact, the role of Byzantine cooperation with the First Crusade is examined in some detail; it is only later that they drop too far off the stage. Also, the role of jihad (or even the existence of it) is meditated upon at length in the middle of the book, especially in relation to rooting out how much of Saladin's actions matched his propaganda as a mujahid. Indeed, one of the primary goals of the book is to try and 'correct' certain long-held traditions, notably around just how much animosity existed around Outremer with relation to Byzantium and the surrounding Muslims. I have to note that despite this detailed study, I was disappointed with losing a lot of details that I'm used to. This is because I'm used to Runciman's three-volume A History of the Crusades. One volume can't really compete with three (though they are individually smaller than this one), but the 'authoritative' tag made me instantly want to compare them. As a one-volume history, it is very good, but it does not replace Runciman's history, and while the parts that do re-evaluate the Crusades are a nice companion to it, it is too extensive just for that.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jerome

    A readable, straightforward history of the Crusades. Asbridge covers this history from both the Christian and Muslim perspectives, and the book is mostly focused on the Crusades in the Holy Land. He does a great job describing how the idea evolved, the motives of the crusaders, and the military dimensions of European and Muslim cultures of the day. Asbridge also covers the improbable success of the first European Crusades, the development of the just war theory, and how the crusaders often had mo A readable, straightforward history of the Crusades. Asbridge covers this history from both the Christian and Muslim perspectives, and the book is mostly focused on the Crusades in the Holy Land. He does a great job describing how the idea evolved, the motives of the crusaders, and the military dimensions of European and Muslim cultures of the day. Asbridge also covers the improbable success of the first European Crusades, the development of the just war theory, and how the crusaders often had more ambition than clear knowledge about the land they wanted to conquer. The narrative is well-researched, comprehensive and balanced, and he provides well-drawn portraits of people like Saladin and Richard I. The cast of characters is also easy to keep track of. A well-written, informative and in-depth work.

  9. 5 out of 5

    David Quijano

    I saw The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land by Thomas Asbridge on a friend’s Goodreads list and decided to read it because of the subject, positive rating, and there was no wait list at the library. I love Medieval warfare, and one of my favorite subjects in history is the siege of Malta between Saint John’s Knights and the Ottoman Empire. So it was with the expectation of political intrigue, sieges, and gruesome warfare descriptions that I decided to read this boo I saw The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land by Thomas Asbridge on a friend’s Goodreads list and decided to read it because of the subject, positive rating, and there was no wait list at the library. I love Medieval warfare, and one of my favorite subjects in history is the siege of Malta between Saint John’s Knights and the Ottoman Empire. So it was with the expectation of political intrigue, sieges, and gruesome warfare descriptions that I decided to read this book. The Crusades has a lot of the positive traits. It is very balanced. The perspective goes back and forth between Muslim and Christian leaders. Since the subject is about the crusades, I found that especially important since so many people cite them while trying to make partisan or ideological points about the world today (something that the author is against). In fact, understanding the true historical and modern day significance was a big part of why I decided to read this. My favorite parts of the book were the first and third crusade and the conclusion. These parts flowed well and were relatively concise. In the conclusion, the author seems to make the point that the crusades definitely affected history, but maybe not as much as some assume. We tend to see and unintentionally distort history through our modern lenses and ideas, and he makes the point that up until recently Muslims didn’t seem to view the crusades as being particularly historically significant. He similarly argues that although Christians cared about the Holy Land, they didn’t care enough to take and hold Jerusalem. They were too busy fighting each other. Honestly, this makes sense to me. The borders moved so much during this particular time period, and it is hard to see the crusades as anything other than a small blip in historical significance. If this book about the first and third crusade with a short conclusion at the end, I would give it four stars. Unfortunately, there was a lot more. That probably makes it sound like the book is too long, but in fact, I think it was too short. The thoroughness of the first and third crusade are what make the story come alive. In other parts of the book, I found myself wanting more information. For example, the author made the point throughout the different crusades that although both Christian and Muslim forces considered the Levant to be out of the way, relatively unimportant, and essentially frontier land, the logistics of war still favored the Muslims simply because it was easier for them to be resupplied and send troops to that part of the world. Although I get that, it would have been nice to seen numbers connected to this statement. Another problem I had was that the author didn't go off on enough tangents. The author mentions people like Rashid ad-Din Sinan (aka the Old Man of the Mountain), but never elaborates. We know he is the leader of the Assassins and that they have an uncanny ability to infiltrate the inner circles of various leaders to have them killed, but I had to look him up on Wikipedia. Needless to say, he’s an interesting person, and I get that this book was already long, but I just felt that guys like that deserved a couple more pages. Reading this book got me thinking about what I look for when I read history. Some of it is accuracy, a balanced perspective, and thoroughness. These are traits I often read about in other reviews of history books and there's no doubt that these things are important. But for me, these traits are necessary, but not sufficient. For me to like a history book, it has to have a strong narrative, preferably one that makes sense and is concise enough to sum up in a couple sentences. Unfortunately, you can’t do that with the crusades. Contrary to what I often hear people say when talking about the crusades (or almost anything else), the idea of good versus bad doesn’t do this story justice. Even morally ambiguous versus morally ambiguous is an oversimplification. The crusades are very complicated. It is Game of Thrones on crack. It isn't enough to say "x" fought "y" and "y" won. "Y" might have won, but now "y" has to worry about "z" who was his ally and might be trying to grab power now that "x" is out of the way. Not to mention, "a" who is "y's" seemingly natural ally, is actually a frienemy and will probably be willing to help "z" undermine "y's" power. There is just too much backstabbing and political posturing to distil this narrative down to a comprehensible story. That isn’t inherently bad for any reason other that the various stories in this book were difficult to follow. It was easy to get lost in all the names mentioned (it also didn’t help that all these guys shared about five different names). I would recommend The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land to anyone who was just getting into the history of the crusades and wanted a nice overview. Generally, though, I think it would be better to read a book about an individual crusade or a biography about a major player rather than trying to fit all this information into one book. I give it three stars for dragging, leaving out important information, and not being concise enough, but its best parts were very good.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Gassler

    Asbridge's account of the Holy Wars from 1095-1291 is a well written and engaging work. Asbridge has done what Rodney Stark, author of God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades has done; he has written a history that reads more like a story. The highlights of this work are The First Crusade, especially Baldwin I of Jerusalem's conquests after 1099 and Saladin's history prior to The Battle of Hattin. The Second Crusade is passed over quickly (something common with most historians of this moveme Asbridge's account of the Holy Wars from 1095-1291 is a well written and engaging work. Asbridge has done what Rodney Stark, author of God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades has done; he has written a history that reads more like a story. The highlights of this work are The First Crusade, especially Baldwin I of Jerusalem's conquests after 1099 and Saladin's history prior to The Battle of Hattin. The Second Crusade is passed over quickly (something common with most historians of this movement) and The Third Crusade is were Asbridge spends considerable time (with merit, but after reading many books, the Third Crusade and it's clash between Lionheart and Saladin is getting old;). The Fourth and Fifth Crusades read much like Christopher Tyerman's and other authors and do not illicit much emotion. However, Asbridge does accomplish what few Crusade authors have done; he helps you connect with the people. Most books on the crusades are about the campaigns themselves, motives, and politics. While Asbridge does cover these points which are intrinsic aspects of crusading, he in addition helps you get to know people like Baldwin I and Baldwin IV, Zengi and Nur ad-Din, Richard Coeur de Lionne (The Lionheart) and Saladin. I have read many books on the crusades, but only Asbridge has been able to get me to fall in love with the people. Names like Bohemond, Tancred, Baldwin, Robert, Phillip Augustus, Zengi, Nur ad-Din, Al-Kahlil, Al-Afdal, and many more were just names and conquerors; but thanks to Asbridge they are now intriguing people who deserve to be remembered for more than their prowess with a sword and tactics on the battlefield. Their ambitions are much like ours, only they were set in a Medieval world were one carved out those ambitions with a blade instead of a pen.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Frank Theising

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book and thought the author did an excellent job examining this subject from both sides, rather than the typical positive or negative portrayal depending on your Christian or Muslim (or secular) biases. The Crusades cover a much larger period of time than I realized and were a lot messier than the popular narratives (with lots of Muslim-on-Muslim and Christian-on-Christian violence, various Christian-Muslim alliances due to internal rivalries and power struggles, and mu I thoroughly enjoyed this book and thought the author did an excellent job examining this subject from both sides, rather than the typical positive or negative portrayal depending on your Christian or Muslim (or secular) biases. The Crusades cover a much larger period of time than I realized and were a lot messier than the popular narratives (with lots of Muslim-on-Muslim and Christian-on-Christian violence, various Christian-Muslim alliances due to internal rivalries and power struggles, and much cultural and economic exchange. There certainly were loads of atrocities that shock our modern sensibilities but do not seem particularly out of place in the feudal, Medieval (Christian or Muslim) world. Also found it interesting how this overlapped with the Mongol Empire’s expansion into the Middle East (and though not explicitly covered, find it fascinating how the Mongol invasion doesn’t really carry the same stigma as the Crusades). I also appreciated the author providing how perspectives (both Western and Muslim) have changed over the centuries and how modern events have popularized views that were not always maintained in the past. Overall, I thought this was an excellent overview of the Crusades and would recommend it to anyone interested in learning about this fascinating period in world history. What follows are some notes on the book: It was a profoundly spiritual age in the Latin West. Pope Gregory, then Urban II pioneered holy war as a new path to purification and salvation. Christianity is a pacifistic faith, but scholars pondering its union with Latin Empire began to question if scripture truly prohibited bloodshed. Gregory set the precedent of serving in holy war as a means of penance. A marshal spirit and lust for conquest fueled a rapid expansion of the Muslim world. The key flaw inherent was the internal division and feuding over rightful succession of caliphs leading to the fragmentation of the Muslim world. At the time of the first crusade, the Muslim world was so riven by division that they couldn’t provide a coordinated response. These divisions made the timing for an invasion propitious. The Levant was not a Muslim stronghold but a patchwork of different ethnicities and faiths. The first crusade was not actually an invasion of the Muslim heartland (Muslim power centered in Mesopotamia), but frontier areas peopled by an assortment of Muslims, Jews, and Christians. More realistic to consider these border wars. Did the Muslim world provoke the crusades or was this an act of aggression by the Christian world? Muslims had seized Christian lands first, but this some 600 years in the past. Hardly a new offense demanding a new offensive. Christians and Muslims had been skirmishing for centuries and there was no evidence that a titanic transnational war of religion was imminent. What we call the First Crusade numbered somewhere between 60K – 100K crusaders. The Byzantine capitol of Constantinople was the jumping off point for invasion to the Muslim world. First target was the siege and capture of Nicaea. The crusaders were a composite, not cohesive force with their own internal language/cultural barriers. The Seljuk Turks attacked but failed to repulse the invaders. Starvation and disease wrought worse on the Christians. The crusaders sought alliances with Armenian Christians who could resupply them for the invasion of Syria. Greco-Latin cooperation was crucial to their successful capture of Antioch. After 8 months, the Latins breached the defenses with the help of an insider who opened a gate. After capturing it, they were besieged by a relief force from Baghdad that arrived and surrounded the city. Rather than reinforce, the Byzantines retreated to Constantinople and were never forgiven by the Latins. With every expectation of defeat, the Latins pulled off a stunning surprise victory leaving Antioch in Christian hands. Internal disputes stalled any advance on Jerusalem. After 10 months of frustrating delays, the Franks continued their march towards Jerusalem. Their ferocity and atrocities in battle led many coastal towns en-route to Jerusalem to put up no resistance and offered them safe passage. With only 15K troops and cut off from resupply, they had no option but to crack the shell of Jerusalem and take the city before the Fatimids of Egypt could reach them. They breached the wall with some innovative ideas and captured the city. After three years in the field they slaughtered the residents of Jerusalem indiscriminately. With roughly 10K troops left they faced another test as an army of 20,000 was marching from Egypt to retake Jerusalem. Despite petty rivalry amongst the Latin leaders they determined, with one last act of solidarity, to conduct a surprise attack on the Muslim force. Catching them by surprise they quickly turned it into a route. The first crusade was a miraculous success. Internal squabbling prevented capture of a critical port Ashkelon, that would be a thorn in the Frankish outpost’s side for years to come. Buoyed by the success of the first crusade, recruitment for the 1101 crusade was enormous. However it would prove a debacle because they failed to heed the warning for unified action. Three separate armies set out for the holy land and each were wiped out by a coalition of Muslim Turks. It would be decades before next series of crusades, leaving the Jerusalem dangerously exposed. The Muslim response to the first crusade was mostly muted. The unlikely success of the first crusade left a disjointed patchwork of vulnerable outposts that needed to be defended. King Baldwin I of Jerusalem consolidated power and continue to conquer territory including ports. However, Tyre and Ashkelon remained Muslim strongholds that opened up avenues of attack. Al-Afdal arrived at the port of Ashkelon with overwhelming numbers. Against all odds, Baldwin defeated the Egyptian army. However Egyptians were rich enough to mount the second invasion immediately. Baldwin barely and miraculously escaped and fled. He regrouped and counterattacked saving his kingdom with but with great loss. Throughout these precarious years, the Latins were extremely lucky that there was never an alliance between Syria and Egypt. His meager forces and resources would never have been able to stand it. Less than 10 years after the conquest of Jerusalem Baldwin and Tancred (ruled Antioch) we’re engaged in Latin-on-Latin warfare. Baldwin even allied with 5000 Muslim in his fight against Antioch. Baldwin continued to outmaneuver Tancred on the diplomatic front and established Jerusalem as the preeminent Latin settlement in the near east. Tancred expanded his borders with an unceasing string of fighting for years on end. Despite regular dynastic struggles and rivalries, the Latin enclaves continued to join forces in the face of Muslim attacks from Mosel. Over time, Pilgrims to the holy land formed monastic orders (the Templars and Hospitallers). Over the 12th and 13th centuries these two orders would build their own standing armies that were well funded and well equipped. They would become the heart of crusading during the 13th century. Independent of any established kingdom, keeping them in the Levant the entire time could be destabilizing. Outremer (French for overseas) was the name for these Latin outposts. They didn’t displace the local populace but the small elite ruled over a mixture of Jews, Muslims, and eastern Christians (Armenians, Copts, etc) in a melting pot of cultural exchange. In 1144, Zengi opportunistically captured Aleppo. This placed northern territory into enemy hands putting the entire region at risk of domino like collapse. This shock sparked the Second Crusade and an unprecedented surge of crusading enthusiasm that expanded into Iberia as well. This second crusade had much greater specificity in the spiritual benefits for the Crusaders but failed to list specific strategic objectives. While the Pope helped to initiate the second crusade, the papacy had not yet figured out how to harness this new method of sanctified warfare. Disparate armies did not congeal into any strategic plan and were heavily reliant on noble and royal participation. European monarchs Louis and Conrad’s example set the expectation of royal involvement in future crusades, bringing with them greater prestige, resources, and manpower, but also contributing to disunity and conflicting objectives. The journey would be a disaster as they failed to coordinate or get the approval of the Byzantine Empire (now mistrustful of the Latins). The divided German and French armies failed to unite and Conrad III set out on his own, but the Seljuk Turks were prepared & the Germans suffered the loss of thousands. After Zengi was assassinated by rival Muslims, his son Nur Ad-Din would further build on his success. He would eradicate Edessa, one of the 4 Christian states in the Levant and go on to conquer all of Syria (mostly from other Muslims) including Damascus. He subsequently made peace treaty with Jerusalem. The Franks captured Ashkelon in 1153. Nur Ad-Din sent a force to invade Egypt. The Fatimids appealed to the Franks for help. The Frank’s agreed and Egypt was now a client state of Jerusalem paying them annual tribute. Jerusalem overplayed its hand and invaded Egypt. Egypt then appealed to Syria/Damascus and fell to Nur Ad-Din. Saladin emerges in Egypt as the Sunni vizier to the Shiite King. He bided his time consolidating power until the young king died from illness before he would make his move. Nur Ad-Din’s empire now spread from Syria to the Nile, surrounding Outremer. But Saladin was very independent and a growing threat to rule from Syria. On the cusp of conflict, Nur Ad-Din died, allowing Saladin to emerge as his own man with expansive ambitions. The Zengid dynasty built over 20 years fractured overnight. Saladin took Egypt and in time was invited north by rival factions seeking protection, resulting in the largely bloodless capture of Aleppo and Damascus. Any conflict against fellow Muslims was justified as building Muslim unity to take on the Franks. As Saladin was rising, Outremer was racked by a series of succession crisis, ushering in a disastrous power struggle. Saladin was now in a position to throw overwhelming numbers at the divided kingdom of Jerusalem, which he captured. It was only a matter of time until he captured the remaining Frankish outposts like Tyre. The fall of Jerusalem sent shockwaves thru Europe. Richard the Lionheart, Frederick Barbarossa, and Philip Augustus all led armies on the third crusade. Internal Muslim rivalries resumed after capture of Jerusalem. Barbarossa drowned but Philip and Richard brought renewed vigor to siege of Acre. After the fall of Acre, Philip returned to France leaving Richard alone to shoulder the costs of crusade. Having tried and failed to defeat Richard in the field twice, Saladin adopted a scorched earth policy. Richard arrived in Jaffa, 40 miles from Jerusalem facing the decision whether to re-capture Ashkelon or move on Jerusalem and leave the security of the coast. Richard dithered 7 weeks, giving Saladin time to prepare. Richard pulled back from attacking Jerusalem in winter, demoralizing his army. A great counter factual: he could have captured the city possibly shattering Saladin’s coalition. Given the trouble with a siege while Saladin still had a field army, most believe it was the wisest course of a prudent strategist not blinded by religious zealotry. After 10 months at war, rumors his brother John was scheming for power and he would soon have to return. But didn’t want to leave a failure. Richard stayed but lost control of the 3rd crusade to the Barons who announced they would move on Jerusalem with or without him. Richard preferred a scheme to take Egypt and permanently break Ayyubid power, but he bowed to public opinion. He stayed but refused to lead. For a second time, they retreated from Jerusalem. Richard concluded a 3 year truce and returned to Europe. Saladin maintained control of Jerusalem but failed to prevent the re-conquest of the coast. Shortly after Richard’s departure Saladin fell ill and died. Richard died before the 4th crusade. Innocent III rose to the papacy and started the 4th crusade. He centralized fundraising and sought a more active role but failed to understand the importance of royal/noble involvement and started on a poor footing, undermanned and underfunded. Crusaders were directed against rival Christians (like Byzantine Constantinople) or heretics (in Spain, the Balkans, and France). The 4th crusade never made it to the holy land. During the 5th crusade, Innocent initiated a reform to have those unable to fight, pay cash to support the crusade and receive the same spiritual reward (precursor to Indulgences). Ayyubid Empire fractured overnight after Saladin’s death. Divided among his sons but his brother seized power. Levant faced with succession crisis throughout the 13th century (for both Latins and Muslims). The fifth crusade would target Egypt. The Ayyubids twice offered Jerusalem to the Crusaders to forestall an attack on Egypt. An offer that was rejected twice. The prosecution of this crusade was criminally inept. They marched into Egypt right before the annual flooding of the Nile. Their armies became trapped and surrendered. Frederick II, descendent of Barbarossa refuse to join the crusade until the Pope crowned him emperor of Germany. Frederick II married queen of Palestine and so led as King of Jerusalem. He was excommunicated for delaying his departure. When he did go, he successfully negotiated the return of Jerusalem. The Muslims were more interested in keeping profitable commercial ties than war. The Pope continued his rivalry with Fredrick and eventually called for crusaders to attack his Hohenstaufen Christian enemy. This and other fronts (Iberia) left Outremer neglected. New Egyptian coalition recaptured Jerusalem. Louis IX only monarch not bogged down with internal warfare (John vs his barons, Frederick vs Pope Gregory IX) and responded to a call to crusade. He attempted a bold amphibious landing on the Egyptian coast. The weakened Ayyubid sultan tapped the last loyal source of manpower: Mamluk slave warriors. Louis repeated the mistakes of the 5th crusade and was captured. He was ransomed but remained in the Middle East 4 years, strengthening Crusader states. When the sultan was assassinated, the Mamluks seized power. Their principal rival however would not be the Franks, but the Mongols. After the Mamluks halted the “unstoppable” Mongol advance, Sultan Baybers sought to wipe the Latin presence off the map. His goal was not occupation but destruction of the Latin beachhead that enabled Europe to send forces to the holy land. In one final crusade, Louis IX and future king of England invaded Tunis that went nowhere. Baybers’ successor sacked the remaining outposts of Outremer

  12. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land, by Thomas Asbridge, is a broad overview of the major Crusades by Latin Christian states under the guidance (albeit loosely) of the Papal States. The ultimate goals of the Crusades ranged from taking back the holy city if Jerusalem from Muslim control, propping up subsequent Catholic states in the region, and other times targeted fellow Christian states (the Fourth Crusade - directed at the Roman Empire in Constantinople). The The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land, by Thomas Asbridge, is a broad overview of the major Crusades by Latin Christian states under the guidance (albeit loosely) of the Papal States. The ultimate goals of the Crusades ranged from taking back the holy city if Jerusalem from Muslim control, propping up subsequent Catholic states in the region, and other times targeted fellow Christian states (the Fourth Crusade - directed at the Roman Empire in Constantinople). The Crusades by no means had universal support, and were often used as excuses to extend temporal power, compete with rival monarchs and achieve prestigious military victories. These objectives often mixed with the religious notions of Crusade. The First Crusade was a bit of a spontaneous construction, although planning for something of its kind - as well as a few expeditions by European counts had existed previously. The Roman Emperor Alexios Komnenos had requested aid in his war against the Seljuk Turks in Anatolia. In 1095, Pope Urban II answered the call, and preachers across Europe began asking for aid from devout Christian soldiers. The mustering quickly became overwhelming - thousands of lesser nobles and their retinues answered the call, and a large force was mustered and marched toward Constantinople. The Emperor Alexios was alarmed at the size of the force, most lesser nobles and company from the Frankish regions, but hoped to used their martial prowess to reconquer parts of Anatolia. Mistrust, however, did exist between Christian camps. A rivalry between Provencal forces from southern France, and Norman forces from Northern France/Sicily emerged. And the Byzantines did not trust any of the crusading forces. The Crusaders agreed to return all conquered lands to Byzantium, and quickly overran the important fortress of Nicaea in Anatolia. The two rival armies then split, one marching East toward Edessa, and the other south toward Antioch. The Eastern army succeeded in defeating a Seljuk force and captured Edessa and surrounding lands, forming the County of Edessa as a Crusading state. Similarly, the Anotiochene army marched on the Antioch, and subjected it to a grueling siege, eventually successful. After this, the force marched on to Jerusalem, taking that city as well, and subjecting it to brutal slaughter. New Crusader states - the County of Tripoli, the Principality of Antioch, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem were formed. The conquests were so successful because of disunity in the Islamic world. The temporal power of the Caliph in Baghdad had waned over the years leading up to the crusades, and the Levant was a region contested by rival forces in Aleppo, Damascus and Fatmid Egypt. This disunity negated a unified response by Arab rival powers, and indeed the Crusaders even managed to sign a treaty of friendship (albeit a brief one) with Fatmid Egypt. This disunity allowed the new fledgling crusader states - weak in temporal power, low on manpower and lacking control over the countryside of their new states - to consolidate control. The new states quickly sought to solidify control over the surrounding areas, as well as the Levantine coast. Cities such as Beirut, Jaffa, Acre and so on were captured and fortified. The Crusaders pushed inland as well, securing Palestine, the Jordan region and extended territories in modern Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. Relations between the Crusaders and Fatmid Egypt soured, however, after Egypt retained control of Ascalon, a key fortress on the Palestinian coast and the "Gateway" to Egypt as a staging point to cross the Sinai Desert. Islamic forces began to grow closer together in the face of this new threat from Europe, although rivalries still existed. This gave rise to a new dynasty in the region. The Zangri's - Turkish warriors working under the Caliph of Baghdad, began to consolidate control in Syria. Zangri would eventually succeed in destroying the County of Edessa - sparking the Second Crusade - an unmitigated disaster where Christian forces divided into two, and stoically (and perhaps foolishly) marched to their deaths at the hands of Seljuk warriors in the interior of Turkey. Meanwhile, political squabbles between the states of the Levant allowed Zangri's successor - Nur ad-Din, to begin to chip away at the Crusading states. Much of Palestine was overrun, and the county of Tripoli severely reduced in size. The greatest threat to the Christian states, however, was the coming of Saladin - who invaded Fatmid Egypt for his lord Nur ad-Din, and then declared autonomy. Eventually, Saladin would succeed in taking both Damascus and Aleppo, and extending his control over Western Iraq as well. He would also succeed in briefly destroying the Crusading sates (except Antioch), occupying Jerusalem and starting the Third Crusade. The Third Crusade may be the most famous after the First. Great monarchs like Philip of France and Richard Lionheart of England/Aquitaine would march on the East, joined by the might Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor in Germany. Richard and Philip were both reluctant, at first to join the Crusade. Both were temporarily united in reducing the power of Henry the I, Richards father and King of England. Richard succeeded in defeating his father, and eventually took over as King of England, controlling lands also in southern France. Philip was King of France and eventual rival of Richard, looking to take back control of French lands controlled by the English Monarchs. Both, however, out aside their rivalries in Europe to continue pursuing them in the Holy Lands. Richard and Philip took ships to the Levant, while Frederick of Germany marched across Anatolia. Richard stopped to support family members in dynastic squabbles in Sicily, and also defeated the Greek rulers of Cyprus, before landing in the Holy Lands to assist in the epic siege of Acre. Philip had been their earlier, building large modern siege weapons to try and reduce Acres walls. Saladin was camped nearby, constantly harassing Crusader forces and trying to relieve the siege with men and supplies. Frederick marched East, encountering resistance from the Byzantines and Seljuk Turks, but swiftly overcame these in siege warfare against the Greeks, and decisive skirmishing against the Turks. However, tragedy befell, as Frederick crossed a river, he slipped and fell from his horse, and drowned. The Third Crusade ended up being a largely successful venture, especially for Richard. He subdued Cyprus and created a new Crusader state there. Philip left quickly after the fall of Acre, his quest fulfilled. But Richard stayed on, reconquering much of coastal Palestine and Lebanon for Jerusalem - although he fell short of taking the City itself. Saladin was largely on the back foot, and after his resounding success early on, he lost some territory to the Crusaders, and saw his dynasty shaken by competing factions. Asbridge continues by looking briefly at the Fourth Crusade, which never even reached the Levant - instead attacking Byzantine possessions in Greece and Hungarian forces in Zara (Croatia) at the behest of the Crusades Venetian financiers. The Fifth and Sixth Crusade did reach the Holy Land, and managed to briefly reconquer the Holy City for Jerusalem, before the Crusader states finally crumbled under concentrated Mamluk assault. Asbridge has done an excellent job examining the Crusades. The States created in the Levant were largely Feudal in nature, and temporal in power, even though they were largely created by religious fervor from Europe. The States squabbled amongst themselves just as much as against there common enemies, and ultimately succumbed to concentrated and unified assault by a large Islamic power. They took advantage of weak and fractured Muslim rule, but were unable to create a lasting impression on the region, and were ultimately swallowed whole. After the crusading period - which lasted roughly from the 12th to 14th centuries, the tide of Crusaders faltered in the Levant, and these regions ultimately became provinces of large Muslim powers, first Ayubbid, then Mamluk and finally Ottoman, for centuries. Asbridge looks at factors affecting both Muslim powers in the region, and temporal Christian states that both built and became the Crusader states of Outremer. He also examines scant evidence of cross cultural exchanges and trading between these seeming enemies, and notes little changed for the subjects of the region beyond marauding armies. Asbridge focuses heavily on the period between the First and Third Crusade, largely examining the composition of the Crusader states, as well as the growth of Saladin and others in the region as they sought to unify Islamic power in the face of Crusader assaults, and form a lasting and cohesive dynasty composing land from Egypt to Iraq - no easy feat at this time. The Fifth and Sixth Crusade are only briefly examined. All things told, this is a very interesting book with a comprehensive examination of the history of both the construction and destruction of Europe's Crusading states, and how these states affected the region. Easily recommended for fans of Medieval history, and those looking for a good and unbiased overview of the Crusading period.

  13. 5 out of 5

    John Nellis

    Very good narrative of the Crusades. It was a nice read , I learned a lot of things I hadn't known about the Crusades. It read like a good novel and wasn't slowed by an overload of information . This would be a good starting point for someone wanting to learn about the Crusades. I especially enjoyed learning about the Mongol invasion of the middle east. An event I knew very little about. Mr. Asbridge does spend time discussing the currant conflict in the Middle east a the end of the book,and how Very good narrative of the Crusades. It was a nice read , I learned a lot of things I hadn't known about the Crusades. It read like a good novel and wasn't slowed by an overload of information . This would be a good starting point for someone wanting to learn about the Crusades. I especially enjoyed learning about the Mongol invasion of the middle east. An event I knew very little about. Mr. Asbridge does spend time discussing the currant conflict in the Middle east a the end of the book,and how some factions call the Western forces crusaders. This is a recent development used by extremists to try and incite anti western feelings. This book looks at everything past and present concerning the Crusades. It deals with the Crusader States, and the personalities and people who lived in them. It covers each Crusade, and many of the larger than life Kings and generals who led them. It does a very good job explaining the Arab side of things, with a very good summary of all the major leaders. He does a through job detailing Saladin's life and tries to explain his possible motivations of why he did things the way he did. All in all, a good read on the Crusades, with plenty of information, and facts ,that also reads like a good novel.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sonny

    I have little recall of having studied the Crusades in high school or college. Thomas Asbridge’s book is a great introduction to an interesting and significant period of history. His book covers the years from the launching of the First Crusade in 1095 to 1291, when the Crusader states finally fell and the Latin Christians were expelled from their kingdom in Syria (other campaigns in Spain and Eastern Europe continued for several centuries after 1291). Asbridge begins his account by exploring the I have little recall of having studied the Crusades in high school or college. Thomas Asbridge’s book is a great introduction to an interesting and significant period of history. His book covers the years from the launching of the First Crusade in 1095 to 1291, when the Crusader states finally fell and the Latin Christians were expelled from their kingdom in Syria (other campaigns in Spain and Eastern Europe continued for several centuries after 1291). Asbridge begins his account by exploring the origins of the idea of “Holy War,” going back to the last days of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. He also examines the Islamic concept of “Jihad.” Notably, the word "Crusade" was not created until more than 100 years after the Crusades ended. The First Crusade was launched by Pope Urban II in 1095. Asbridge spends some time exploring the reasons behind the Crusades. Unlike the response of the US after 9/11, the Crusades were not a response to any aggression on the part of the Islamic world. Jerusalem had already been in Muslim hands for 400 years without problem when the Pope issued his call to arms; Christian pilgrims had long been free to travel to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. The first Crusade had more to do with the consolidation and extension of papal authority over the feuding warlords of western Europe. What then would lead the warlords and peasants to pursue a Crusade against the Levant? The society of the late 11th century was society "saturated with religious belief." The Church's message was startlingly simple: one cannot avoid the consequences of sin. Urban II offered the people a means of salvation: All their sins would be cancelled if they went on Crusade. In other words, the Crusaders were offered the remission of their sins by redirecting their energies towards the “enemies” of God. At a time in church history when few Bibles existed and most people could not read the Bible for themselves, there was a terrible fear of damnation. Church murals often depicted horrible scenes of Hell. Although the concept of “earning” their salvation is wholly unbiblical, it proved to be an effective recruitment tactic. So, who were these enemies of God? Emperor Alexius in Constantinople made an appeal to arms to Urban. The Saljuq Turks, semi-nomadic invaders, had been moving into and taking over the eastern regions of Byzantium. Thus, were the warriors called to arms. What was surprising was the astonishing success of this first mission. Against all odds and at a terrible human cost, Jerusalem was captured in 1099 by a European army fighting thousands of miles from home. Four separate Crusade states—the kingdom of Jerusalem, the principality of Antioch, and the regions of Tripoli and Edessa—were created. The problem, however, was that these then had to be defended against their Muslim enemies. Unlike the First Crusade, the second Crusade of 1147-1149 was led by two of the greatest monarchs of Europe—Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany. This Second Crusade was opposed by the Zangid dynasty in Syria and the powerful, formidable figure of Nur al-Din. It failed, largely due to the sense of entitlement that surrounded it. The third Crusade of 1189-92 is perhaps the most famous of the crusades. It was marked by a confrontation between Richard the Lionheart, the king of England, and Saladin, the mighty Ayyubid sultan. Despite his ability to unite Islam, Saladin had "neither the will nor resources to complete the conquest of the Palestinian coastline." Nevertheless, the third Crusade proved inconclusive. The Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople in a campaign to install a short-lived puppet regime intended to extend papal rule over the eastern branches of Christendom. However, the crusaders later faced a much more ruthless foe in the Mamluk Sultan Baibars, who finally drove the Franks/Latin Christians from Palestine in 1291. This is a grim read. The narrative is replete with such details as decapitated heads of prisoners being paraded on spikes before a furious enemy—suffering that was deliberately inflicted. Some of the sieges were marked by people "tormented by the madness of starvation.” Asbridge documents the near continuous in-fighting, greed and ambition that plagued both sides (and ultimately led to the downfall of the Crusader states). The book is exhaustively researched (Asbridge is a medieval history scholar at Queen Mary University of London). He provides an analysis that carefully considers both sides in the conflict. In addition, amid the horrors of war, this is also a thought-provoking read that sheds light on the past but also paints a picture that contains some important historical truths. He concludes that the crusades are an alarming example of the "potential for history to be appropriated, misrepresented and manipulated" for political ends.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    The Crusades was my latest read on the titular events, which I regard as a primary focus of my historical research. It is fact- and character-driven, not a mere narrative, but a chronology describing the important events, how they came about, how we know of them, their consequences, and so on. It describes life in the era of the Crusades, how the idea of crusading evolved from an armed pilgrimage into a dedicated military enterprise, how the Crusader States were ruled, and of course, how the bat The Crusades was my latest read on the titular events, which I regard as a primary focus of my historical research. It is fact- and character-driven, not a mere narrative, but a chronology describing the important events, how they came about, how we know of them, their consequences, and so on. It describes life in the era of the Crusades, how the idea of crusading evolved from an armed pilgrimage into a dedicated military enterprise, how the Crusader States were ruled, and of course, how the battles of the oriental campaigns were fought. These latter descriptions are all you can ask for in a book on military history. They are almost pedantic in how they describe who was where doing what, they describe the worst and the best in humanity, kindness shown to enemies and inhuman brutality, heroic standoffs and the suffering of the people after a prolonged siege. Asbridge not just describes strategy and tactics or military technology (although he does that spledindly), but he really gives an impression of what warfare must have felt like. Particularly memorable were the Siege of Acre, the Battle of Ramla, and the Battle of Dorylaeum, but really, you can make your pick. There is something for every fan of military history in this. As I said, the book is also character-driven. Much attention is given to such persons as Fulk Nerra of Anjou, Richard Coeur de Lion, Bohemond of Taranto, Louis IX, or Bernard Clairvaux. It is not always poignant, but that is no big problem, Asbridge relays enough of the facts that you can make up your own mind about these people. Some descriptions are better than others, but I don't think there was a character that I could not make at least some sense of towards the end. Perhaps Raymond of Toulouse comes close, but that might be on me, perhaps I am trying to read more consistency into him than I should. I cannot say I understand him less, either. The book gives a lot of attention to the muslim perspective on the Crusades and their contemporary politics. To me, that is very welcome. Asbridge manages to stay fair and largely unbiased in his assessments. He does not portray Salah Ad-din as the hero of legend, but as a shrewd politician and propagandist, a schemer, who won wars by picking his battles wisely and not by tackling the odds or heroically standing his ground. Acre was the first time he led a protracted siege, and while he eventually grew to the task, he could've stopped the siege dead by taking decisive action in the beginning. In this, he was more like the opposite of Richard Coeur de Lion, not his counterpart. King Richard was a daredevil, who fought in the first rank, perhaps one of the greatest warriors of his age. Salah Ad-din created an image of himself as the designated warrior of god years before he actually came to believe this image following a severe illness, he did not treat Christians as kindly as is commonly claimed, and yet he fought more wars against his fellow muslims than against the Christians, like someone out to amass power. Still, he was not a particularly despicable individual, unlike Zangi and Baybar, who are rightly portrayed as the bloodlusty tyrants they were. Particularly nice was that Asbridge also described the origin of the Druze, and the cooperation between muslims and Christians in the Holy Land, as when Templars allowed a muslim to pray in his old moschee turned Church, even taking away the altar for the duration of his prayer, or when muslim and Christian farmers worked the same land, or when crusaders traded with Fatimids. Overall, I was impressed at how little actual hatred there was between Christians and muslims as such, despite the brutality of the wars and battles. Apparently, the Turks and the Franks, after slaughtering each other, went home without feeling like the other side had to be annihilated. Modern man seems utterly incapable of this, sometimes, he either succumbs to sentimental pacifism, or to the worst barbarism. Of violence without hatred, he cannot make sense. The book had some weaknesses. The slaughter of the Jews along the Rhineland is attributed to Peter the Hermits troops, but The Glory of the Crusades attests it to the Count of Leiningen, and as it goes into a lot more detail on this episode, I am more inclined to follow it. Gregory VII and Urban II are both accused of dehumanizing muslims by pointing out attacks against Christian pilgrims, which I see as very unfair. The skepticism towards these attacks strikes me as biased. That there is little corroborating evidence is to be expected in such a time, it's not like anyone kept strict record of Christian pilgrims killed at the border. He overrates the elitism and isolation of the Franks, considering that many of them took foreign wifes, although he also admits that the Crusader states produced unique art that combined frankish, byzantine and even arabic influences, so it is not like he gets lost in a preconceived narrative. On the siege of Jerusalem and the resulting massacre, he seemed a bit confused, like he first wrote about the massacre and only then found the theory that the descriptions of crusaders wading through blood that ran as high as their knee, or ankle, or the bridles of their horse, are allusions to Revelation 14:20. Most importantly, perhaps, he does not do a good job on the Fourth Crusade, rushing the chapter and not describing the events that led to the sack of Constantinople, so that one does not leave with a much better understanding of the episode than the standard narrative, which was a huge disappointment to me. None of these errors struck me as expressive of any failure as a scholar or a person, however. Everyone has his oversights, his blindspots, or research that he does not quite enjoy. I highly respect Thomas Asbridge for having written this book. It is a fine history book, and overall, remarkably unbiased, fact-driven, and thorough. Certainly, it is more worthwhile than a good deal of other books on the crusades. It does not uncritically repeat narratives, it tries not to play favorites (Asbridges admiration for King Richard was hard to overlook, but he did not bluntly excuse his famous massacre of prisoners), and it doesn't make a stupid quip every other page. I know I learned a lot from it, and so I can wholeheartedly recommend it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alex O'Connor

    An excellent, balanced, and well researched history of this very important topic. I especially loved how Asbridge shifted narrative between the Muslims and the Franks, giving both side's perspective. The section on Richard the Lionheart and Saladin was especially well done. I learned a great deal about the first four Crusades!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mike Kershaw

    I picked this book up at the National Cathedral in Washington DC on a Church Youth Group trip after hearing Chaplain Dave Curlin speak on "The Dangers of a Monolithic interpretation of Islam" and re-reading Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" on a trip to Afghanistan. The Crusades are a central reference point between Christianity and the Western World and Islam for good reason. Asbridge's book was an engaging read. He discusses the period between 1097 and 1291 and Five Crusades (depending on I picked this book up at the National Cathedral in Washington DC on a Church Youth Group trip after hearing Chaplain Dave Curlin speak on "The Dangers of a Monolithic interpretation of Islam" and re-reading Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" on a trip to Afghanistan. The Crusades are a central reference point between Christianity and the Western World and Islam for good reason. Asbridge's book was an engaging read. He discusses the period between 1097 and 1291 and Five Crusades (depending on how you count them, you can come up with twice that number) that established the Four Crusader States in the Middle East during this period. He highlights both religious and secular reasons for activities, demonstrates that the were essentially 'militarily unsustainable' and how they led to the rise of the military orders -- a first step in the post Roman Empire 'professionalization' of western militaries. He attributes much of the success of the early Crusades to a successful rejuvenation of Papal authority and disunity in the Muslim world, allowing "Latin" forces to establish a significant foothold. Latin successes are most evident when King/Monarch's become personally involved -- massing the resources of their empires and failures can often be attributed to the infighting between the different factions that became established in "Outremer" (Latin term for Crusader States) over time. He discusses how the Crusades were impacted by trade and economic issues and how their fate was linked to the economy of the western Mediterranean. He also outlines both the continental and maritime aspects of each campaign, which sides employed their relative advantages and how political cohesion in the Muslin world under centralized leadership eventually made Outremer untenable. Overall, a relatively unbiased and secular description of a key period of history in an area that still resonates today.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    I used Goodreads to identify this book as my first foray into the detailed history of the Crusades of the 11th through 13th centruies. I really enjoyed this history book. What a winner it proved to be! Thomas Asbridge has produced a remarkably well researched volume, presenting both European Christian and Middle Eastern Muslim views of these still-contentious Medieval wars. The book's comprehensive bibliography and detailed account renders undeniable credibility to Asbridge's insightful analysis I used Goodreads to identify this book as my first foray into the detailed history of the Crusades of the 11th through 13th centruies. I really enjoyed this history book. What a winner it proved to be! Thomas Asbridge has produced a remarkably well researched volume, presenting both European Christian and Middle Eastern Muslim views of these still-contentious Medieval wars. The book's comprehensive bibliography and detailed account renders undeniable credibility to Asbridge's insightful analysis of the unprovoked European Christian assault on the Muslim-dominated Levant to capture Jerusalem 900 years ago, and the Muslim response to the Christian aggression. I recommend this book to those seeking to understand why these events still impact international and religious relationships, and world peace, in the 21st century.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    A thorough narrative of the Crusades, starting with the first impulses of liberating the Holy Land from the Saracens, to the last gasps of failure as one Christian army after another died in mud or limped home. This book doesn't flinch as disease and starvation claim thousands of idealistic but unprepared Europeans. The two heroes in this appalling mess were Saladin, and Richard the Lionheart. Their skills turned them into legends, and those on both sides who hold religion dear are ever-ready to A thorough narrative of the Crusades, starting with the first impulses of liberating the Holy Land from the Saracens, to the last gasps of failure as one Christian army after another died in mud or limped home. This book doesn't flinch as disease and starvation claim thousands of idealistic but unprepared Europeans. The two heroes in this appalling mess were Saladin, and Richard the Lionheart. Their skills turned them into legends, and those on both sides who hold religion dear are ever-ready to fight again. The conclusion mentions George W. Bush taking up the Holy cross and leading a fight against Osama bin Laden, which frankly gave me chills in what an accurate modern comparison it was.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Boudewijn

    Review will follow.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jordan Schneider

    Soundtrack for the book review: Veni Creator Spiritus was the Crusades’ anthem, which folks took to singing to pump up before battles and even as they were about to get slaughtered. In 1095 at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II bent history and conjured up the Crusades. “Whoever wishes to save his soul should not hesitate humbly to take up the way of the Lord, and if he lacks sufficient money, divine mercy will give him enough. Brethren, we ought to endure much suffering for the name of Christ Soundtrack for the book review: Veni Creator Spiritus was the Crusades’ anthem, which folks took to singing to pump up before battles and even as they were about to get slaughtered. In 1095 at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II bent history and conjured up the Crusades. “Whoever wishes to save his soul should not hesitate humbly to take up the way of the Lord, and if he lacks sufficient money, divine mercy will give him enough. Brethren, we ought to endure much suffering for the name of Christ — misery, poverty, nakedness, persecution, want, illness, hunger, thirst, and other (ills) of this kind, just as the Lord saith to His disciples: ‘Ye must suffer much in My name,’ and ‘Be not ashamed to confess Me before the faces of men; verily I will give you mouth and wisdom,’ and finally, ‘Great is your reward in Heaven.”’ And when this speech had already begun to be noised abroad, little by little, through all the regions and countries of Gaul, the Franks, upon hearing such reports, forthwith caused crosses to be sewed on their right shoulders, saying that they followed with one accord the footsteps of Christ, by which they had been redeemed from the hand of hell. In an oddly weightless 784 pages, Asbridge walks through two hundred years of invasions, sieges and massacres that make up one of the more surreal episodes in world history. Unfortunately, aside from retelling the compelling tale from a wealth of textual sources, it’s a shame that Asbridge doesn’t have all that much to add. The book is unsatisfying on a number of levels. It underwhelms as military history. Asbridge is strongest on the strategic level of war, convincingly analyzing the overarching motivations of the Popes, the various Christian nobility, and the Islamic rulers. He is decent on the operational level, explaining the various battlefield maneuvers to siege X instead of Y city. However, he struggles on the tactical level and with some of history’s most dramatic set pieces. Asbridge relies too strictly on historical documents, not branching out more into other sources like the topography of battles, the weapons of war, theological history and common battlefield maneuvers. Perhaps his textual sources, unlike Greek and Roman ones, have lost the Thucydidean bent of trying to get at ground facts. But in the ‘Face of Battle’ Keegan was able to turn fighting from a similar era with presumably similar sources into extraordinary drama in his Agincourt chapter. Asbridge should have given a few battles and sieges a fuller treatment as opposed to making sure each one got its page and a half. Worst of all, he doesn’t give a rich enough sense of the devotional aspect and motivation for the Crusades. The Christians were absolutely crazy to start this up. It was halfway across the world, giving the Islamic world dramatic advantages of interior lines. States back then didn’t have major incomes — some Kings devoted half of their annual expenses some years on funding these armies that did nothing to enrich their kingdoms. And even when suffering setback after setback, the Christians kept coming at it for two hundred years. Clearly the draw of Jerusalem and the chance to absolve sins was extraordinarily powerful. But it’s a shame that Asbridge doesn’t provide a deeper sense of the worldview motivated men to uproot and risk their lives on a quixotic religious war. Most frustratingly, he even hints at these sorts of insights. For instance, he mentions that at one point when Richard the Lionheart left off a siege of Jerusalem for justifiable tactical reasons, he completely lost the asabiyah of his army who had waited years to stake their lives on entering the holy city. He also hints at how the rise of chivalry made Christian armies harder to command, as individual knights were more focused on gaining personal glory than following orders. But the two sentences he gives on the Children’s Crusade were a particular bummer. Even Asbridge couldn’t blow the insanity of this period’s anecdotes and fun/horrific facts. 1st Crusade (1095–99) I wonder if any scholar has looked into whether Muslim Jihad ideology influenced the pope and other religious thinkers. There doesn’t seem to be any Christian precedent for military martyrdom or an idea of a holy war. A eunuch Byzantine general who wore a golden nose after his real one got sliced off During one massacre when the Turks were marauding through a camp, “the girls, who were delicate and very nobly born were hastening to get themselves dressed up, offering themselves to the Turks, so that at least, roused and appeased by the love of their beauty, the Turks might learn to pity their prisoners.” The importance in this world of relics and how finding the True Cross came to energize the troops. One mystic to prove that he had found the lance that pierced Jesus decided to submit to a trial by fire — he fasted for four days, but ended up dying from his wounds. After all the crusaders’ horses died on one campaign, plenty of nights were forced to ride on donkeys so lame that their feet dragged on the ground. The Crusaders started to cannibalize on one campaign. From a Frank source: “Our men suffered from excessive hunger. I shudder to say that many, terribly tormented by the madness of starvation, cut pieces of flesh from the buttocks of Saracens lying there dead. These pieces they cooked and ate, savagely devouring the flesh while it was insufficiently roasted.” As Asbridge points out, these and other flagrant displays of Crusader cruelty helped compel some Arab cities to surrender more quickly. Some US generals have noted the same impact in Iraq post-Abu Ghraib. The Muslims and Christians kept coming up with better and better ways to insult and horrify each other during the long months of sieges. Muslims would carry wooden crosses up to their walls only to piss on them. The Franks once captured a spy and hurled him back into the city in a trebuchet while still alive — he was too heavy and crashed into the wall. Once the Crusaders captured Jerusalem, they flipped the Jizyah back onto Muslims and made them all pay a head tax. The Assassins’ name comes from everyone thinking they were addicted to hashish. The British library has a strikingly beautiful bible that one King of Jerusalem had commissioned for his wife in 1135 (grateful for living in 2017 to be able to within 15 seconds find super high resolution scans). From the Melisandre Psalter Second Crusade (1147–49) The fall of Odessa woke up Europe and sparked an even larger crusade than the first. As often happens in history — See Toqueville on “revolutions of rising expectations” — only after grave disappointment are people fully mobilized. ***When the Assassins wanted to prove their influence to Saladin to persuade him to leave their castle be, legend has it they did it in the dopest of ways. “He was visited by Sinan’s envoy. Once searched for weapons, this messenger was granted an audience with Saladin, but insisted upon conferring with him in private. The Sultan eventually agreed to dismiss all but two of his most skillful and trusted bodyguards, men he regarded as his own sons. The envoy then turned to the pair of guards and said, ‘If I ordered you to in the name of my master to kill this Sultan, would you do so?’ They answered ‘Yes’ and drew their swords, saying, ‘command us as you wish.’ Saladin was astounded and the messenger left, taking them with him. Thereafter Saladin inclined to make peace with Sinan.” Saladin has a Christian army dehydrating on the battlefield, and before engaging with them he lit scrubfires. He said that the fires were “a reminder of what God has prepared for them in the next world.” ***Saladin after winning the battle above called the two most important Christian generals into his camp. “With the pair seated beside him, Saladin turned to Guy [King of Jerusalem] , ‘who was dying from thirst and shaking with fear like a drunkard’, graciously proffering a golden chalice filled with iced julep. The King supped deeply upon this rejuvenating elixir, but when he passed the cut to Reynald, the sultan interjected, calmly affirming through an interpreter: ‘You did not have my permission to give him drink, and so that gift does not imply his safety at my hand.’ For, by Arab tradition, the act of offering a guest sustenance was tantamount to a promise of protection. According to a Muslim contemporary, Saladin now turned to Reyald, ‘berat[ing] him for his sins and…treacherous deeds’. When the Frank staunchly refused an offer to convert to Islam, the sultan ‘rose to face him and struck off his head…after he was killed and dragged away, [Guy] trembled with fear, but Saladin assured him that he would not suffer a similar fate.” Gustave Dore Third Crusade (1189–1192) “Any who are healthy, young, and rich cannot remain behind without suffering shame” said one song. For the third Crusade, all the cool kids signed up. Richard the Lionheart went out on Crusade with a sword named Excalibur, but eventually sold it to buy some ships. Saladin after winning a skirmish took all the Christian dead and floated them downstream into their camp. When the two armies were besieging each other at Acre, they had a tacit agreement that if you were leaving your trench to poop, no one would shoot arrows at you. One Muslim ship, after being driven back to the beach, was beheaded by “knife-wielding women. A crusader later noted that ‘the women’s physical weakness prolonged the death because it took them longer to decapitate their foes’.” To run the blockade of Acre, Muslim supply ships flew crosses, shaved their beards, and had pigs running around their deck. Richard the Lionheart promised the King of Cyprus that he wouldn’t put him in irons…so once he surrendered they made silver shackles for him. Whenever their was a borderline suicidal thing the commanders wanted them to do, like run up to a wall and remove a boulder, they offered their soldiers two or three gold coins and got loads of volunteers. After one battle, a crusader wrote “armfuls of arrows could be gathered like corn in the fields.” Fifth Crusade Crusading by 1200 was more urbanized, leading to more monarchical power, a ‘good christian life’ transitioned from having to constantly seek penitence to interior spirituality over external piety. He argues that the chivalric ethos that came about in this time made individual knights harder to control, as they were more independent and focused on personal glory. The pope at the time, to help fund a new crusade, set up donation boxes and promised that contributing would help wash away sins. This was the germ for the growth of indulgences that were a major trigger for Martin Luther. St Francis snuck into a city the Crusaders were besieging in Egypt. He went under parley to the Egyptian lines, asking to see the sultan. The troops thought he was a crazy beggar and sort of amusing, so the sultan took an audience. Hoping to convert the city to Christianity in order to stave off further violence, he offered to do a trial by fire…which the sultan politely declined, sending him back to the Crusaders’ camp. 7th Crusade The crusaders did a nuts beach landing ala D-Day at Damietta in 1249. Mamluks (who seem dope and I need to learn more about) The Mongols sent the Mamluks an emissary calling on them to surrender. They cut their bodies in half and hung them from Cairo’s gates. The Mamluks found a random guy who they decided was descended from the prophet in order to create another Caliph in order to legitimize their reign. Beibers comes out looking like the most competent (and cold-blooded) ruler of all the kings and sultans from the era, able to establish a lasting dynasty, stave off the Mongols, and kick out the Christians. He also created his own pony express in 1250. Their system comprised of a “one generation nobility” of slaves trained to be Mamluks, the leadership class of warriors, helped with stability. Their children weren’t allowed to rise to high ranks. Conclusion Religious impulses to focus on Jerusalem. Sort of reminds me of Hitler imbuing Stalingrad with way too much purpose. This book came out in 2010, so pre-ISIS. It’s a particular shame he focuses so little on motivation as we really do have a sort of ‘crusading’ army today that I’d like to be able to compare more richly with ISIS.

  22. 4 out of 5

    David

    If you're looking for a book on the Crusades, this is a pretty good one. That said, I'm not sure who gets to name it the "authoritative" history. About 2/3 of the book covers the first three crusades and the times between them. Thus, the Fourth and Fifth Crusade, as well as any later crusading movements, only get about 1/3. Further, things like the Peasants Crusade, Children's Crusade and Albigensian Crusade each get at most a page. I'm not necessarily complaining, the book is already 600 pages! If you're looking for a book on the Crusades, this is a pretty good one. That said, I'm not sure who gets to name it the "authoritative" history. About 2/3 of the book covers the first three crusades and the times between them. Thus, the Fourth and Fifth Crusade, as well as any later crusading movements, only get about 1/3. Further, things like the Peasants Crusade, Children's Crusade and Albigensian Crusade each get at most a page. I'm not necessarily complaining, the book is already 600 pages! But to truly be authoritative, I think it needs a bit more (though what do I know?). The best parts of the book are how Asbridge illustrates the way crusading changed over the years as well as the differing perspectives between Christians and Muslims. Islam was divided, which is a large reason the First Crusade succeeded. Muslims and Christians sometimes joined forces to fight other Muslims. Jerusalem and the Holy Land were not a large concern for Muslims at first. Further, the memory of the crusade did not play a huge role in the centuries after. It was not until the 1900s that some Muslims looked back at the crusades to begin to justify terrorism and expansion. All that said, I do wish he had spent more time talking about how the crusading idea was used to justify some of the crimes committed during European colonialism. We get glimpses of how crusades were beginning to target heretics and any enemies of Rome. It would have been interesting to see more. But again, such a book would be over 1000 pages. Overall, a great read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gator

    The Crusades by Thomas Asbridge was published in 2010. “Through two centuries, diverse forces combined to fuel and propel this struggle. These ranged from the ambition of popes to achieve Rome’s ‘divinely ordained’ ecclesiastical primacy, to the economic aspirations of Italian merchants; from notions of social obligation and bonds of kinship, to an emerging sense of chivalric duty. Leaders- Muslim and Christian, secular and spiritual- came to realize that the ideas of holy war could be harnessed The Crusades by Thomas Asbridge was published in 2010. “Through two centuries, diverse forces combined to fuel and propel this struggle. These ranged from the ambition of popes to achieve Rome’s ‘divinely ordained’ ecclesiastical primacy, to the economic aspirations of Italian merchants; from notions of social obligation and bonds of kinship, to an emerging sense of chivalric duty. Leaders- Muslim and Christian, secular and spiritual- came to realize that the ideas of holy war could be harnessed to justify programs of unification and militarization, even to facilitate the imposition of autocratic governance. In this respect, the crusader wars conformed to a paradigm common to many periods of human history - the attempt to control and direct violence, ostensibly for the common good, but often to serve the interests of ruling elites.” So much history so little time ! This was an excellent read that educated me on so much I was ignorant to about the crusades. With perspectives from both the Christian side and the Muslim side I’ve found two new characters in history that now interest me enough to learn more about them, Richard the Lion Heart and Sultan Baybars. Also I had zero idea that the Mongols played such a part and not only that but how bada** the Mamluks were and how they defeated multiple times the invincible Mongols. This book had opened up so many new doors for me, I’m truly excited about it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Pablo Flores

    Extremely informative, this book sets aside sympathies and antipathies and corrects traditional views by emphasizing, at every relevant point, how the history of the crusades itself has a history, and how prejudice and oversimplification have often clouded the complexity of two centuries, since the First Crusade to the fall of the Latin Levantine states. It does seem a bit over-detailed in a few places, but it doesn't overwhelm, and I think it's a must-have for history aficionados like me.

  25. 4 out of 5

    A.L. Sowards

    I listened to an audiobook about the crusades not that long ago, but when I saw this one on sale through Chirp for $6, I grabbed it up because I really enjoyed this author's book about William Marshall. It took me a while to listen to all 25.5 hours (because helping my kids with online learning is a lot of work), but I enjoyed it. It's a good choice for readers (or listeners) looking for a one volume book about the Crusades.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tzutopia

    Very good overview and summary. Goes into great detail from both perspectives. Bonus points for beautiful and elaborate writing style!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mark Gannon

    A very interesting read. It can get highly academic at times, but at least it stuck to the facts. Five stars.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Helen Callaghan

    Signed with the Cross - "The Crusades" by Thomas Asbridge location: London mood: impressed music: Toxic Valentine - All Time Low I've frequently whinged about the rather dispiriting lack of anything resembling a proper popular cultural history of the Middle Ages. There's loads of great Tudor era material, but not much from earlier. I have my much-loved copy of The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer, which is an utter life-saver, but unfortunately it concentrates on the Fourte Signed with the Cross - "The Crusades" by Thomas Asbridge location: London mood: impressed music: Toxic Valentine - All Time Low I've frequently whinged about the rather dispiriting lack of anything resembling a proper popular cultural history of the Middle Ages. There's loads of great Tudor era material, but not much from earlier. I have my much-loved copy of The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer, which is an utter life-saver, but unfortunately it concentrates on the Fourteenth Century, and the character in Sleepwalker is actually from the Thirteenth. Furthermore, he's a Crusader; specifically a Knight Templar. I had of course done some reading on the Crusades just out of general interest before I started writing Sleepwalker (they'd been a matter of personal fascination to me since I'd visited Jerusalem as a student), and I'd particularly enjoyed The New Knighthood by Malcolm Barber, the multi-volume History of the Crusades by Steve Runciman, and also the very populist but no less fun and interesting The Crusades by Alan Ereira and Terry Jones. So I was happy to get a chance to look at Thomas Asbridge's forthcoming book The Crusades (published by Simon and Schuster, who very kindly set me up with access to an except), and I was very glad I bothered. It proved a fast and yet authoritative read and distinguished itself on two fronts - through the device of giving equal time and consideration to the Muslim view of events (Saladin's tactics are analysed and critiqued - it's clear that Asbridge feels that it's a downhill slide for the Islamic champion after Hattin) and the book also offers more than a passing treatment of what it might actually be like to be fighting in the Siege of Acre. Though bound to be a straightforward military history by its very nature, it's actually spiked through with lively storytelling and wonderful anecdotes, such as the scandalised Muslim historian reporting on "300 young and lovely Frankish maidens" who arrive to earn a living servicing the Crusaders (and, it is implied, Muslims) besieging Acre, who "brought their silver anklets up to touch their golden earrings [and:] made themselves targets for men’s darts". Ingenious jihadis get a supply ship to the beleaguered city of Acre by shaving their beards off and filling the decks with pigs and crosses, fooling the Christian sailors manning the cordon. An emir caught transporting the hated and feared "Greek Fire" (which features in Sleepwalker, so I was delighted to see it) is captured trying to get into the city, and a Latin knight ‘stretched him out on the ground, emptying the contents of the phial on his private parts, so that his genitals were burned’. But it's not all (admittedly grisly) fun and games: there is also the horror of starvation, disease, of being surrounded by rotting corpses which are constantly being replenished with fresh ones to the tune of up to 200 a day. There's also a very human treatment of the main actors - Saladin is passionate, determined, but maybe a little too cautious; Richard the Lionheart is flamboyant, canny, and vain, but capable of ruthless acts of massacre. The use of evidence, historical context, and personal supposition is mingled convincingly and their characterisations drawn with an elegant economy of language. The political history is delivered with the same sprightly verve as the military history, and from the point of view of an interested amateur, this treatment worked well for me. Apparently the word "crusader" comes from the Latin portmanteau crucesignatus - "signed by the Cross". One can forward social and political reasons that render the Crusades a matter of mere expediency, but those reasons on their own are insufficient - ultimately the genesis of the Crusades is ideological. Sadly, in the last couple of decades, the Crusades and their troubling questions of religious fanaticism and grasping political adventurism are closer in spirit to us than they have ever been. Asbridge's accessible and above all humane take on them is thus an entirely welcome approach to this very topical subject.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    It took me a while to finally decide to pick this book up and read it due to the daunting 700 page length, but once I did I flew through it (by my standards) because I couldn't put it down. I'm not sure how it's possible that someone could write a page-turner of a book about 200 years of crusading to the Near East but Asbridge did it. For me this book was very educational and entertaining at the same time. Maybe 2/3 of the book is about the First and Third Crusades and the rest is dedicated to th It took me a while to finally decide to pick this book up and read it due to the daunting 700 page length, but once I did I flew through it (by my standards) because I couldn't put it down. I'm not sure how it's possible that someone could write a page-turner of a book about 200 years of crusading to the Near East but Asbridge did it. For me this book was very educational and entertaining at the same time. Maybe 2/3 of the book is about the First and Third Crusades and the rest is dedicated to the other crusades and the conclusion. Essentially the First Crusade was a major success, the Third Crusade was a moderate success, and all the other crusades were nearly complete failures.  One thing that really stuck out to me throughout the book was the importance of good leadership and organization. Neither of those ideas are groundbreaking but it was shocking to me that time and again the Christians would put together these massive campaigns to the Near East that were doomed not necessarily by defeat from the enemy, but because of internal struggles over leadership. By the end of the book it was a broken record to read about how a campaign was nearly successful but ultimately failed because of leaders' arguments over the eventual spoils or who was the main man in charge or who would get what when it was over. And on the other side when there was a strong leader it was also shocking how quickly things crumbled once he passed away. Another related aspect that was a major influence on the crusades was the leaders' concern over what was going on back home while he was out on crusade. The Crusades were composed of people from many different countries/lands including France, England, Sicily, Venice, Genoa, and Germany. All of these countries had their own wars they were fighting against each other which lead to the almost comical scenarios where nobles from different countries would agree to cease fighting while they took the cross, and resume fighting each other once they returned home. One notable example from the book is Richard the Lionheart and Philip Augustus who made a truce to leave at the same time so the other guy wouldn't take over his land while he was gone. Along those same lines Asbridge makes it clear throughout the book that although Muslims and Christians were definitely not friends during the epoch of the crusades they were also not necessarily always blood enemies. There were countless tales of Christians living peacefully under Muslim rule and vice versa, along with mutual respect between leaders of both groups on many occasions. Although there were of course brutal stories of pillage and rape, economic and political expediency were often more important than the bad blood between Christians and Muslims and led to agreements that were beneficial to both sides. Similarly even in the midst of all these conflicts, there were many times when those of the other faith were permitted to enter the holy sites to worship.  Anyway, this review could carry on to be as long as the book itself, but I'll stop here and just say that I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot. Other memorable parts: - Saladin, Richard the Lionheart, Baybars, and other leaders - The Crusader States: Edessa, Tripoli, Jerusalem, and Antioch - Promises from the Pope made to those who took the cross - The tales of the True Cross - The Cult of the Holy Lance - The descriptions of medieval warfare with siege weapons, sapping, poisoning of water sources, greek fire, etc. - The role of disease and winter throughout the crusades - The Order of Assassins from where we get the word "assassin" - "hashish-eaters" "By the eleventh century, the rulers of Sunni Baghdad were far more interested in using jihad to promote Islamic orthodoxy by battling ‘heretic’ Shi‘ites than they were in launching holy wars against Christendom. The suggestion that Islam should engage in an unending struggle to enlarge its borders and subjugate non-Muslims held little currency; so too did the idea of unifying in defence of the Islamic faith and its territories. When the Christian crusades began, the ideological impulse of devotional warfare thus lay dormant within the body of Islam, but the essential framework remained in place." "The once fashionable myth that crusaders were self-serving, disinherited, land-hungry younger sons must be discarded." "The Saracens were thunderstruck next morning at the sight of the changed position of our machines and tents . . . Two factors motivated the change of position. The flat surface offered a better approach to the walls for our instruments of war, and the very remoteness and weakness of this northern place had caused the Saracens to leave it unfortified." "'With the fall of Jerusalem and its towers one could see marvellous works. Some of the pagans were mercifully beheaded, others pierced by arrows plunged from towers, and yet others, tortured for a long time, were burned to death in searing flames. Piles of heads, hands and feet lay in the houses and streets, and men and knights were running to and fro over corpses.' Many Muslims fled towards the Haram as-Sharif, where some rallied, putting up futile resistance. A Latin eyewitness described how ‘all the defenders retreated along the walls and through the city, and our men went after them, killing them and cutting them down as far as the [Aqsa mosque], where there was such a massacre that our men were wading up to their ankles in enemy blood’. Tancred gave his banner to a group huddled on the roof of the Aqsa, designating them as his captives, but even they were later slain in cold blood by other Franks. So gruesome was the carnage that, according to one Latin, ‘even the soldiers who were carrying out the killing could hardly bear the vapours rising from the warm blood’. Other crusaders ranged through the city at will, slaughtering men, women and children, both Muslims and Jews, all the while engaging in rapacious looting." "Less than ten years after Jerusalem’s conquest, Baldwin and Tancred–fellow Latins and veteran crusaders–were now ready and willing to crush one another in open war. More shocking still was the fact that Baldwin marched forth to this struggle alongside his new ally, Chavli of Mosul, and some 7,000 Muslim troops." "One of the most surprising revelations to emerge from Usama’s writings is the normalised, almost day-to-day nature of his encounters with Franks. While some of these took place in the context of combat, many meetings were of an amicable and courteous form. This may well have been a function of Usama’s high social class, but it is clear that Latins did establish friendships with Muslims. In one case, Usama described how ‘a respected knight [in King Fulk’s army] grew to like my company and he became my constant companion, calling me “my brother”. Between us there are ties of amity and sociability.’ Nonetheless, there was an undertone to this tale, one that reverberated through many of the stories related in the Book of Contemplation: an inbred sense of Muslim cultural and intellectual superiority. In the case of his knightly friend, this came to the fore when the Frank offered to take Usama’s fourteen-year-old son with him back to Europe so that the boy could receive a proper education and ‘acquire reason’. Usama thought this preposterous proposition revealed ‘the Franks’ lack of intelligence’. Another seemingly unlikely association enjoyed by Usama ibn Munqidh was his amicable relationship with the Templars. According to Usama: When I went to visit the holy sites in Jerusalem, I would go in and make my way up to the Aqsa mosque, beside which stood a small mosque that the Franks had converted into a church. When I went into the Aqsa mosque–where the Templars, who are my friends, were–they would clear out that little mosque so that I could pray in it. Usama evidently had no difficulty either in making a pilgrimage to the Holy City or in finding a mosque in Frankish territory within which to perform his canonically mandated daily prayers." "This account seems to indicate that a large, sedentary Muslim population lived in relative peace within Latin Palestine, paying a per-capita levy (like the poll-tax imposed by Islamic rulers on their non-Muslim subjects) and a produce tax. Surviving evidence for the level of taxation imposed within Islamic polities around this same time suggests that Muslim peasants and farmers were no worse off living under Frankish Christian rule. In fact, Ibn Jubayr even suggested that Muslims were more likely to be treated with ‘justice’ by a ‘Frankish landlord’ and to suffer ‘injustice’ at the hands of ‘a landlord of [their] own faith’." "Eugenius also made significant refinements to the array of protections and privileges offered to those taking the cross. His encyclical proclaimed that, in a crusader’s absence, the Church would protect ‘their wives and children, goods and possessions’, while legal suits regarding a crusader’s property were banned ‘until there is absolute certain knowledge of their return or death’. Likewise, interest on debts owed by a crusader was cancelled." "But Nur al-Din’s conduct revealed that he was no intransigentjihadi ideologue, bent upon conflict with Christendom. Instead, he had employed pragmatism to defuse a confrontation with one of Islam’s true global rivals. Amid the dealings between Nur al-Din and Manuel, the crusader states almost seemed like an insignificant sideshow. Throughout these years Nur al-Din’s actions suggest that, in spite of his apparent spiritual awakening and emergent patronage of jihad propaganda, he continued to view Latin Outremer as simply one opponent among many within the complex and entangled matrix of Near and Middle Eastern power politics." "With this in mind, Richard enacted a detailed set of regulations in 1190, mandating harsh penalties for disorder: a soldier who committed murder would be tied to the corpse of his victim and thrown overboard (and if the offence took place on land, he would be tied to the body and buried alive); attacking someone with a knife would cost you your hand, while for hitting someone with a fist you would be plunged into the sea three times; thieves would be shaved of their hair, and then have boiling pitch and feathers poured over their heads ‘so that [they] may be known’." "The Latins’ suffering may have been obvious to onlookers, but the view from inside the Christian camp was even more anguished. Cut off from the outside world, the crusaders’ stores of food simply ran out. By late December people had turned to skinning ‘fine horses’, eating their flesh and guts with gusto. As the famine intensified, one crusader wrote that there were ‘those who had lost their sense of shame through their hunger [who] fed in sight of everyone on abominable food which they happened to find, no matter how filthy, things which should not be spoken of. Their dire mouths devoured what humans are not permitted to eat as if it were delicious.’ This may be an indication that there were outbreaks of cannibalism." "He now offered to commute the crusaders’ debt and to commit his own troops to join the Levantine war, so long as the crusade first helped Venice to defeat its enemies. In agreeing to this deal, the Fourth Crusade drifted from the path to the Holy Land. Within months the expedition had sacked the Christian city of Zara on the Dalmatian coast, Venice’s political and economic rival. Innocent was dismayed when he heard about this affront and reacted by excommunicating the entire crusade." "Doge Dandalo seized an imposing bronze statue of four horses and shipped it back to Venice, where it was gilded and erected above the entrance of St Mark’s Basilica as a totem of Venetian triumph. It remains within the church to this day." "This brutal riot overran the Ayyubid encampment and, had Robert now elected to hold the field, reorder his forces and await Louis’ arrival, a stunning victory might well have been at hand. But this was not to be. With Muslim stragglers streaming towards Mansourah, the count of Artois made a woefully hot-headed decision to pursue them. As he moved to initiate a second charge, the Templar commander urged caution, but Robert chided him for his cowardice. According to one Christian account, the Templar replied: ‘Neither I nor my brothers are afraid…but let me tell you that none of us expect to come back, neither you, nor ourselves.’" "This turned the battle in the Mamluks’ favour, as they managed to surround the Mongols and slay Kitbuqa. In one of the epochal moments of history, the seemingly unstoppable tide of Mongol expansion was halted by the new champions of Islam."

  30. 4 out of 5

    Elliott Bignell

    By far the best-balanced treatment of the Crusades I have yet to encounter, this monumental work had me rivetted. Impaled, even. I have rarely eaten up so hefty a work in so short a time. Gripping, clearly written and unbiased, this has to be the best of its class. The book takes an interesting approach of alternating between Muslim and Christian points of view in successive sections, consciously striving for balance. It neither takes a hatchet to reputations on either side nor degenerates into a By far the best-balanced treatment of the Crusades I have yet to encounter, this monumental work had me rivetted. Impaled, even. I have rarely eaten up so hefty a work in so short a time. Gripping, clearly written and unbiased, this has to be the best of its class. The book takes an interesting approach of alternating between Muslim and Christian points of view in successive sections, consciously striving for balance. It neither takes a hatchet to reputations on either side nor degenerates into a hagiography, a risk that works on Saladin, in particular, tend to run. The Muslims come off as more ruthless and the Christians more compromising than tends to be the norm, although the author clearly has sympathy for the Eastern viewpoint and is not indulging in mere apologetic revisionism. It is simply a fact that rulers who survived and won wars in the Middle Ages had to wield the sword or alternatively set it aside according to the expedient of the day. Saladin certainly held himself to commitments made to his foes, but he was not always inclined by character to do so. Richard broke promises of clemency made to prisoners, notoriously when massacring the garrison of Acre, but he was capable of compromise and even cooperation with Muslims. The extraordinary band of men - and they are mostly men, as the narrative is exclusively martial - who dominate this account are portrayed neither as barbarians nor as saints, but as leaders trying to achieve vast deeds with limited resources. The first four Crusades are book-ended by conflict not with Muslims but with Orthodox Greeks, from Bohemond's prior martial experience to the sack of Constantinople. The murder of Jews in Worms and Jerusalem and persecution of heretical Christians is mentioned but not dwelt upon. It is a clash-of-cultures chronicle from a man who clearly rejects clash-of-cultures ideology. For Asbridge, the Crusades belong in history books. Where this book shines is in detailing the subsequent and lesser-known Crusades in Egypt, although its treatment of the Albigensian, Iberian and Baltic Crusades is superficial. Interestingly, the Muslim tale is bound up with the arrival of the Mongols, first defeated by Baybars in only one of a series of prodigious feats of arms by both sides. Indeed, between the horror of siege warfare and massacres and the obdurate determination of men prepared to cross seas and deserts to fight steel-to-steel for questions of belief, one can only regard the warriors of both sides with a kind of horrified awe. The Muslim side was perhaps slower to take up arms, barely even interested in Outremer and Jerusalem at first and nonplussed at the Franks' intentions, but in the end they carried the day and took the larger of the two piles of heads. What could one not achieve with a handful of such men today! What would one not give to be sure they all remain dead! Astonishing and flawed characters, pious, tough, principled and murderous, capable of almost inhuman feats, if this book really says one thing it is how grateful we should be to be able to regard them at the safe distance of several centuries.

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