Here is a new book by historian Nicholas Morton (Nottingham Trent University), whose work we have noted before, that shows that the city of Aleppo in Syria has been the scene of great carnage before now: The Field of Blood: The Battle for Aleppo and the Remaking of the Medieval Middle East. Aleppo has survived disaster in the past, and will no doubt survive again. The publisher is Basic Books; here is a description from the website:
A history of the 1119 Battle of the Field of Blood, which decisively halted the momentum gained during the First Crusade and decided the fate of the Crusader states
In 1119, the people of the Near East came together in an epic clash of horses, swords, sand, and blood that would decide the fate of the city of the Aleppo–and the eastern Crusader states. Fought between tribal Turkish warriors on steppe ponies, Arab foot soldiers, Armenian bowmen, and European knights, the battlefield was the amphitheater into which the people of the Near East poured their full gladiatorial might. Carrying a piece of the true cross before them, the Frankish army advanced, anticipating a victory that would secure their dominance over the entire region. But the famed Frankish cavalry charge failed them, and the well-arranged battlefield dissolved into a melee. Surrounded by enemy forces, the crusaders suffered a colossal defeat. With their advance in Northern Syria stalled, the momentum of the crusader conquest began to evaporate, and would never be recovered.
Why waste your time reading tripe like The DaVinci Code when real history is so much more interesting? Here, from Penguin Random House, is a new history of the Knights Templar, The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors, by historian Dan Jones. The Templars were a Catholic lay order that fought in the Crusades and, incidentally, established an early global financial network. Eventually they ran afoul of the French monarchy, which pressured the papacy to dissolve them–see, there’s even a church-state angle. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:
An instant international bestseller, this major new history of the knights Templar by the bestselling author of The Plantagenets is “another triumphant tale from a historian who writes as addictively as any page-turning novelist.” –The Guardian
Jerusalem 1119. A small group of knights seeking a purpose in the violent aftermath of the First Crusade decides to set up a new order. These are the first Knights of Templar, a band of elite warriors prepared to give their lives to protect Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. Over the next two hundred years, the Templars would become the most powerful religious order of the medieval world. Their legend has inspired fervent speculation ever since. But who were they really and what actually happened?
In this groundbreaking narrative history, the bestselling author of The Plantagenets tells the true story of the Templars for the first time in a generation, drawing on extensive original sources to build a gripping account of these Christian holy warriors whose heroism and depravity have so often been shrouded in myth. The Templars were protected by the pope and sworn to strict vows of celibacy. They fought the forces of Islam in hand-to-hand combat on the sun-baked hills where Jesus lived and died, finding their nemesis in Saladin, who vowed to drive all Christians from the lands of Islam. They were experts at channeling money across borders. They established the medieval world’s first global bank and waged private wars against anyone who threatened their interests.
Then in 1307 the Templars fell foul of a vindictive King of France, whose lawyers built a meticulous case against them. On Friday October 13, hundreds of brothers were arrested, imprisoned and tortured, and the order was disbanded amid lurid accusations of sexual misconduct and heresy. They were tried by the Pope in secret proceedings and publicly humiliated. But were they heretics or victims of a ruthlessly repressive state? Dan Jones goes back to the sources tobring their dramatic tale, so relevant to our own times, in a book that is at once authoritative and compulsively readable.
This month, Cornell University Press releases Invisible Weapons: Liturgy and the Making of Crusade Ideology by M. Cecilia Gaposchkin (Dartmouth College). The publisher’s description follows:
In 1098, three years into the First Crusade and after a brutal eight-month siege, the Franks captured the city of Antioch. Two days later, Muslim forces arrived with a relief army, and the victors became the besieged. Exhausted and ravaged by illness and hunger, the Franks were exhorted by their religious leaders to supplicate God, and for three days they performed a series of liturgical exercises, beseeching God through ritual prayer to forgive their sins and grant them victory. The following day, the Christian army, accompanied by bishops and priests reciting psalms and hymns, marched out of the city to face the Muslim forces and won a resounding and improbable victory.
From the very beginning and throughout the history of the Crusades, liturgical prayer, masses, and alms were all marshaled in the fight against the Muslim armies. During the Fifth Crusade, Pope Honorius III likened liturgy to “invisible weapons.” This book is about those invisible weapons; about the prayers and liturgical rituals that were part of the battle for the faith. M. Cecilia Gaposchkin tells the story of the greatest collective religious undertaking of the Middle Ages, putting front and center the ways in which Latin Christians communicated their ideas and aspirations for crusade to God through liturgy, how liturgy was deployed in crusading, and how liturgy absorbed ideals or priorities of crusading. Liturgy helped construct the devotional ideology of the crusading project, endowing war with religious meaning, placing crusading ideals at the heart of Christian identity, and embedding crusading warfare squarely into the eschatological economy. By connecting medieval liturgical books with the larger narrative of crusading, Gaposchkin allows us to understand a crucial facet in the culture of holy war.
In June, Routledge released “The Crusade in the Fifteenth Century: Converging and Competing Cultures,” edited by Norman Housley (University of Leicester). The publisher’s description follows:
Increasingly, historians acknowledge the significance of crusading activity in the fifteenth century, and they have started to explore the different ways in which it shaped contemporary European society. Just as important, however, was the range of interactions which took place between the three faith communities which were most affected by crusade, namely the Catholic and Orthodox worlds, and the adherents of Islam. Discussion of these interactions forms the theme of this book. Two essays consider the impact of the fall of Constantinople in 1453 on the conquering Ottomans and the conquered Byzantines. The next group of essays reviews different aspects of the crusading response to the Turks, ranging from Emperor Sigismund to Papal legates. The third set of contributions considers diplomatic and cultural interactions between Islam and Christianity, including attempts made to forge alliances of Christian and Muslim powers against the Ottomans. Last, a set of essays looks at what was arguably the most complex region of all for inter-faith relations, the Balkans, exploring the influence of crusading ideas in the eastern Adriatic, Bosnia and Romania. Viewed overall, this collection of essays makes a powerful contribution to breaking down the old and discredited view of monolithic and mutually exclusive “fortresses of faith”. Nobody would question the extent and intensity of religious violence in fifteenth-century Europe, but this volume demonstrates that it was played out within a setting of turbulent diversity. Religious and ethnic identities were volatile, allegiances negotiable, and diplomacy, ideological exchange and human contact were constantly in operation between the period’s major religious groupings.
In July, the Cambridge University Press will release “Encountering Islam on the First Crusade,” by Nicholas Morton (Nottingham Trent University). The publisher’s description follows:
The First Crusade (1095–9) has often been characterised as a head-to-head confrontation between the forces of Christianity and Islam. For many, it is the campaign that created a lasting rupture between these two faiths. Nevertheless, is such a characterisation borne out by the sources? Engagingly written and supported by a wealth of evidence, Encountering Islam on the First Crusade offers a major reinterpretation of the crusaders’ attitudes towards the Arabic and Turkic peoples they encountered on their journey to Jerusalem. Nicholas Morton considers how they interpreted the new peoples, civilizations and landscapes they encountered; sights for which their former lives in Western Christendom had provided little preparation. Morton offers a varied picture of cross cultural relations, depicting the Near East as an arena in which multiple protagonists were pitted against each other. Some were fighting for supremacy, others for their religion, many simply for survival.
This is not a book everyone will find satisfying. It is not a scholarly history; it focuses on great personalities rather than wider social, military, or intellectual movements. It is not particularly analytic; the author attempts to explain the Crusades and their impact in a brief concluding chapter. And, as the title suggests, it is essentially one-sided. Amin Maalouf, a Lebanese Catholic writer who lives in France – and is a member of the Académie Française – presents things very much from the point of view of Arab Muslim chroniclers who lived through the Crusades, who wrote of the Franj as barbarous, unwashed, promiscuous brutes who had invaded the House of Islam without provocation and who must be expelled, no matter how long it took. (One irony Maalouf notes: although the chroniclers were Arabs, the leaders of the Muslim party were, virtually to a man, Kurds and Turks).
Why, then, is this book, first published almost thirty years ago and recently re-released in a new edition, a “classic”? Because Maalouf is a vivid writer who brings the past alive and who offers insights on the two-hundred year clash of civilizations the Crusades represented. He details the kaleidoscopic pattern of alliances that formed and dissolved: Christian against Muslim, of course, but also Sunni against Shia and Western Christian against Eastern Christian. Allegiances could shift rapidly: a Shia caliph in Egypt might seek the aid of the Franj against his Read more
Peter Frankopan (Oxford) offers an unexpected historical account in The First Crusade: The Call From the East (HUP 2012) which emphasizes the eastern causes of the conflict. The publisher’s description follows.
According to tradition, the First Crusade began at the instigation of Pope Urban II and culminated in July 1099, when thousands of western European knights liberated Jerusalem from the rising menace of Islam. But what if the First Crusade’s real catalyst lay far to the east of Rome? In this groundbreaking book, countering nearly a millennium of scholarship, Peter Frankopan reveals the untold history of the First Crusade.
Nearly all historians of the First Crusade focus on the papacy and its willing warriors in the West, along with innumerable popular tales of bravery, tragedy, and resilience. In sharp contrast, Frankopan examines events from the East, in particular from Constantinople, seat of the Christian Byzantine Empire. The result is revelatory. The true instigator of the First Crusade, we see, was the Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, who in 1095, with his realm under siege from the Turks and on the point of collapse, begged the pope for military support.
Basing his account on long-ignored eastern sources, Frankopan also gives a provocative and highly original explanation of the world-changing events that followed the First Crusade. The Vatican’s victory cemented papal power, while Constantinople, the heart of the still-vital Byzantine empire, never recovered. As a result, both Alexios and Byzantium were consigned to the margins of history. From Frankopan’s revolutionary work, we gain a more faithful understanding of the way the taking of Jerusalem set the stage for western Europe’s dominance up to the present day and shaped the modern world.