The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land
By Thomas Asbridge
Published in March 2011
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
This “authoritative history” of the crusades is a fairly extensive historical account of all nine Middle Eastern crusades.
I recommend this book, but only to people already interested in the history of the period. The numerous names, events, and details sometimes make it difficult to keep track of who is doing what. That, however, might be something to be expected considering the length and broad scope of the book.
There are many interesting details that really surprised me. For example, I already had a vague notion that the crusaders came as disorganized bands of soldiers from a wide variety of factions. I hadn’t realized the extent to which the crusaders operated in the vacuum of a traditional state or government as we understand it today. Constant internal conflicts, rogue mercenaries, and factionalism plagued the crusaders. During sieges, the army was so insubordinate that besieging generals routinely crated incentive systems for soldiers. In one siege, the besieging general paid soldiers 1 coin per stone from the wall they brought back.
Asbridge also downplays the role of religious fervor, instead highlighting the wide variety of secular interests motivating both sides. His view contrasts that expressed by Jay Rubenstein in “The Armies of Heaven.”
There is a lot of information and mythology about the first, third, and fourth crusades. It is the many other crusades that are less well known. By far, the best thing that this book does, is talk about the other crusades. I had never heard about Louis the 9th’s heroic battles in Egypt, or the cunning Mamluk Bahris.
I recommend this book highly to amateur historians, but do not necessarily recommend it as an introduction to the crusades.
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