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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not what I was expecting
Stark is a sociologist who delights in digging up evidence undermining the conventional wisdom on issues of history and faith; which is what he does provocatively in God's Battalions.

Provocatively, because it is undisputed in the school education system and general culture that the Crusades were `a bad thing', that the Muslims were on the side of the angels,...
Published on 17 April 2012 by Matthew Hosier

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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good myth-busting, but some deficiencies
God's Battalions may one of those titles which is likely to create controversy, but controversy that may be necessary. Why? Perhaps because maybe it is high time that the politically correct version of the `history' of the crusades presented so often in the media was challenged. All too often it seems, the crusades are presented as an unprovoked attack by bigoted Western...
Published 15 months ago by Medieval Lady


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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not what I was expecting, 17 April 2012
By 
Matthew Hosier (Poole, UK) - See all my reviews
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Stark is a sociologist who delights in digging up evidence undermining the conventional wisdom on issues of history and faith; which is what he does provocatively in God's Battalions.

Provocatively, because it is undisputed in the school education system and general culture that the Crusades were `a bad thing', that the Muslims were on the side of the angels, that the `Christians' were primitive thugs, and that all the current woes of the West's relationship with the Middle-East are merely the inevitable outworking of this earlier, unfortunate phase of our history. Stark refutes all these givens.

A significant problem for us in considering the Crusades is that we are dealing with a culture that is in pretty much every respect alien to us. It is hard to imagine ourselves into a world where everyone was deeply religious, yet at the same time often deeply immoral. To step back into medieval Europe would be at least as culturally disorienting for us as going to live amongst the Taliban today. Our cultural grid is radically different from that of our Crusading forbears.

The greatest tragedy of the Crusades is perhaps that those taking part truly believed that by doing so they were atoning for their sins and earning salvation. A clear understanding of salvation by grace through faith would have avoided a lot of grief... But this erroneous theology did produce some colourful characters: "Thorvald was a renowned Viking who had converted to Christianity... He undertook a pilgrimage in 990 seeking to atone for having killed two poets who had mocked his faith and another man who had criticized his preaching." I feel a certain empathy with Thorvald..!

Stark takes a broadsword to the assumptions we have about this period of history. He refutes the accepted wisdom that Muslims were tolerant of non-Muslims in the lands they conquered. He argues that the accomplishments of Muslim culture were actually the accomplishments of Christians and Jews (the dhimmi) living under Islamic rule, and that the Muslim population itself was culturally backward. (For example, the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem was built by Byzantine architects and craftsmen rather than Muslims.) He accepts Crusader claims on their own terms - that Muslims were the aggressors, who had invaded Christian lands, and oppressed the Christians over whom they ruled. He states that "Muslim memories and anger about the Crusades are a twentieth-century creation" in response to British and French imperialism after World War I and the creation of the state of Israel after World War II.

The fact that "the total number of books translated into Arabic during the 1,000 years since the age of Caliph Al-Ma'moun (a ninth-century Arab ruler who was a patron of cultural interaction between Arab, Persian, and Greek scholars) to this day is less than those translated in Spain in one year" has been oft quoted and Stark claims that "the inability of Muslims to keep up with the West occurred because Muslim or Arab culture was largely an illusion resting on a complex mix of dhimmi cultures, and as such, it was easily lost and always vulnerable to being repressed as heretical. Hence when in the fourteenth century Muslims in the East stamped out nearly all religious nonconformity, Muslim backwardness came to the fore."

Stark argues that the military successes of the Crusaders were also due to Muslim backwardness. For example, the Muslim navy was composed of ships that were copies of the boats of Christians, and were crewed by mercenaries from the West - this inevitably put them at a disadvantage against the more up-to-date craft of the Crusaders, and their more motivated crews.

A recurring theme in Stark's romp through the Crusading centuries is the tension that existed between Eastern and Western Christianity. Again and again the Byzantines, who had requested help from the West in order to resist the encroaching Muslims, betrayed and undermined the Crusader armies. That the Crusaders plundered Constantinople is often quoted as an example of the brutality and idiocy of the period, but reading Stark's arguments it becomes much more understandable why this event occurred.

Stark concludes his book pithily,

"The thrust of the preceding chapters can be summarized very briefly. The Crusades were not unprovoked. They were not the first round of European colonialism. They were not conducted for land, loot, or converts. The crusaders were not barbarians who victimized the cultivated Muslims. They sincerely believed that they served in God's battalions."

This conclusion will probably jar against everything you have ever been told about the Crusades, and if for no reason other than that this book is worth a read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Battle of evermore, 6 Jan 2013
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This review is from: God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (Paperback)
In 732 on a battlefield near Tours Charles Martel stood triumphant,maybe not then knowing fully that the tide of history had been changed as the armies of Allah retreated to Al-Andalus,at this point it can arguably be stated that the first Christian Crusade began as a reaction to the Islamic Crusade that began in the deserts of Arabia.
Crusader histories always seem begin in the 11th century and seem to ignore the continued attacks and colonialist/imperial zeal of Islam that witnessed the submission of the Middle East and North Africa plus parts of the European continent in less than 200 yrs.
This book seeks to redress that imbalance and explain the Crusade as a reaction to not an attack upon Islam and i believe he succeeds,if you wish to understand present affairs and how the Crusades are taken out of context then this book should be on your list.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply the best., 17 Nov 2012
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Mr. Michael Richard Harris (Michael, from Birmingham, England.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (Paperback)
The single best AND most readable work on the Crusades. Just about all books on this subject are heavily biassed against the West-not this though.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "God’s Battalions" by Rodney Stark - A Review, 16 Dec 2014
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This review is from: God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (Paperback)
Stark starts by cataloguing the long list of Muslim conquests against Christian states and peoples from Syria and North Africa to Armenia, Spain and Southern France, but he also provides a chilling list of mass murders of Christian monks and pilgrims — each with dates and numbers: 70 Christian pilgrims executed in Caesura for refusing to convert to Islam and 60 crucified in Jerusalem in the early eighth century, the sack and slaughter of the monastery near Bethlehem in the later eighth century, the destruction of two nearby churches gradually escalating to multiple attacks on churches, convents and monasteries in and around Jerusalem including mass rapes in 808 and 813, a new wave of atrocities in 923, the destruction of an estimated 30,000 (yes, thirty-thousand) Christian churches including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 1009. So much for Muslim “tolerance.”

Stark also brings considerable evidence that the alleged “superiority” of Muslim/Arab culture was largely based on accomplishments of Persian, Jewish, Indian and, indeed, Christian scholars living under Muslim rule. Thus the alleged mathematical superiority of the Arabs came from the Hindus, the great libraries and legacy of learning came from the Greeks, Arab medicine was, Stark argues, “Nestorian Christian” in origin and so on. He then contends that the Christian west was anything but “backward” and the so-called “Dark Ages” is a misnomer that says more about the ignorance of historians than the state of civilization in the period between the fall of Rome and the First Crusade. Stark points out that the military technology of the crusaders — from stirrups, horseshoes and crossbows to the devastatingly effective “Greek Fire” — was markedly superior to the military technology of their opponents. But it wasn’t just in military matters that the crusaders were ahead of the Saracens. In the fields of agriculture, land-transportation and nautical technology, Western technology also significantly out-stripped that of the Middle East.

Stark is perhaps at his best in documenting the many times that Muslim victors slaughtered the garrisons and inhabitants of conquered cities — long before the first crusaders even set out from Europe. He points out the hyperbole in popular accounts of the fall of Jerusalem in the First Crusade as well. But he is most effective in countering the myth of Muslim chivalry is his account of the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the second half of the 13th Century, where time and again the Mamluk leaders broke their word and enslaved or massacred those to whom they had promised freedom and life. One quote from a primary, Muslim source about the sack of the great Roman city of Antioch should suffice to make this point. The source is a letter to the Prince of Antioch (who had not be present in his city to defend it) by none other than the Muslim Sultan himself. Sultan Baibars gloated: “You would have seen your Muslim enemy trampling on the place where you celebrate Mass, cutting the throats of monks, priests and deacons upon the altars, bringing sudden death to the Patriarchs and slavery to the royal princes. You would have seen fire running through your palaces, your dead burned in this world before going down to the fires of the next.” Ah, yes, Saracen “chivalry” at its best indeed.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and argued, 3 April 2010
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C. D. Turner "c turner" (Brussels) - See all my reviews
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The author sets out his views with clear supporting arguments, nicly argued and cites his sources, how a history book; should be written
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good myth-busting, but some deficiencies, 15 Sep 2013
This review is from: God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (Paperback)
God's Battalions may one of those titles which is likely to create controversy, but controversy that may be necessary. Why? Perhaps because maybe it is high time that the politically correct version of the `history' of the crusades presented so often in the media was challenged. All too often it seems, the crusades are presented as an unprovoked attack by bigoted Western religious fanatics against a peaceful civilisation and its `enlightened' populace.

Stark reveals that the reality was not so simple. I for one have heard or read before of Islamic aggression against Europe before the Crusades, and the conquest of much formerly Christian territory in North Africa and the Middle East, so this was nothing new to me, but it is useful in refuting the notion idea of the `unprovoked' crusades.
The author however, goes further to challenge the notion that the Islamic culture was technologically and intellectually superior to that of Europe, demonstrating that many of the intellectual advances attributed to Islam seem in fact to have been made largely by Jews, Christians other minority groups, or in pre-Islamic cultures.

He also rejects the notion of the `dark ages', a term which is no longer favoured by historians, and argues that Western technology was actually superior to that of the East, which only triumphed in terms of `book learning'. Again, some of the above may be familiar territory.

On the downside as history graduate the author's criticism or apparent distrust of the writings of those of this profession was an position which I would be unlikely to entirely accept.
My only other concern was one claim made by the author which I know to have been historically incorrect - that knights who wore plate armour `had to be lifted onto their horses with looms'. This was never the case in battle, only with the more elaborate suits of armour worn at jousts, and its inclusion may cause some questions over the historical validity of some details and claims. For the most part however, I think the work is generally reliable.

The second half did not seem nearly as interesting and engaging, and seems to get caught up in what were essentially just brief accounts of the major events and persons of the crusading period. There didn't seem to be any no real analysis, at least not in depth as one might expect from a more specialised history book, though this is not one of those.
Rather it is an examination of the time period, and the major themes, trends and views thereof. By arguing that there was indeed something in the stories of attacks on pilgrims, persecution of Christians and highlighting some of the massacres perpetrated by Islamic armies this work may do something to redress the imbalance of popular opinion against the crusades, and the `clashing civilisations' which took part in them. Also interesting was the mention of how some clergymen attempted to protect Jewish communities in the cities which crusaders targeted, demonstrating perhaps that anti-Semitic sentiments were not universally shared in the West.

Some have spoken of the author's belief that the Crusades were a good thing, and whilst this work may indeed be somewhat polemical in its intention and the authors regards the crusades as `Christendom fighting back', I'm not sure if the author expressly praises them as something positive.
Maybe I just failed to notice such a sentiment which may have been present, but I personally get the impression that this book was more apologetic then designed to promote the ideals and actions of the crusaders, or apply them to modern American foreign policy.

Altogether God's Battalions is a worthwhile work, though perhaps it would have been better as a more dedicated study of misconceptions about the crusades. I understand that the author needed to give some overview of the main facts, but the way these took up much of the second half of the book, making it appear rather dull or dry, and seeming lack of analysis meant that I did not enjoy this as much as I could have. Also, whilst there are many good and worthwhile sources, I wouldn't take everything the author says as `gospel'.
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9 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 26 July 2010
By 
W. Spillemaeckers (Vichte, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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Having read Stark's books on the rise of Christianity with a lot of appreciation, I picked up God's Batallions with some anticipation. I was disappointed.
God's Batallions has the merit of going against the generally held opinion that the Crusades were an unprovoked war against a highly civilized people, and that the objectives of the Crusades were rather mundane in nature : to provide for second and third sons who otherwise did not get a heirloom in feudal Europe.
Stark argues not without reason that the Muslims brought this on themselves as Islam had been spread mainly by the sword. The battle of Poitiers in which the Muslim forces were stopped just a few hundred miles south of Paris had been fought only about 250 years before the first Crusade, and large parts of Spain were still under Islamic rule. Without doubt, Christian pelgrims were also harassed on the way to Jerusalem. There is no conclusive evidence of course that this was because of them being Christian. In these days it was not very safe to travel anywhere, particularly if you could be suspected of carrying valuables.
What annoyed me most however is Stark's continuous switching between the terms Muslim and Arabs (and to a lesser extent Turks). Stark claims that Muslim civilization was far less advanced than historians chose to believe. His main argument being that the conquering Arabs absorbed the knowledge of Romans, Greeks and Persians, and chose to present this knowledge as being Islamic in origin. Without a doubt the culture of the nomadic Arab tribes that spread Islam was not very advanced. But I do not understand why for instance Persians like Omar Khayyam or Avicenna cannot be claimed by Islam as Muslim thinkers. The problem there is that Stark does not seem to understand the difference between a Muslim and an Arab.
Having said that, Stark is of course correct saying that the so-called Dark Ages of Europe were not as dark as some like to believe. The Byzantine Empire reached its summit with the Macedonian dynasty around 800 to 900, and its culture was one of the most advanced in the world.
For that reason, as a historian interested in Constantinople, it annoyed me that often Stark calls the Byzantines "Greeks", a term that no doubt they would have objected against. They called themselves Romans, of course, as they were Romans, who had adopted Greek as their native language, even though Latin remained the language of officialdom. Also, where as I said, Stark's main merit is that he goes against the generally accepted ideas about the Crusades, he completely follows the ideas cultivated in Western Europe about Byzantium and its perceived decadence and lack of support for the Crusades. Imagine the horror of the Emperors on finding a motley band of unruly warriors on their doorstep, whose objectives, idealistic or not, were lacking completely in political pragmatism. The Emperor had a lot of good reasons to assume the Crusaders were going to fail in their quest, or at least to doubt their intentions. One of these reasons, as Stark allows, is that it contained a large number of troops that had been fighting the Byzantine Empire and had managed to take away some of its most prized possessions in Southern Italy.
The second half of the book is devoted to a well well written but by no accounts original history of the Crusades. If you are interested in that, I would recommend the books of Sir Steven Runciman on this subject. Indeed, if you want to understand this era and you are looking for a good read, I would go for Runciman's books rather than for God's Batallions.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars If you want a history, look elsewhere., 20 Jun 2014
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This review is from: God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (Paperback)
Taking primary accounts of Muslim barbarism at face value, Stark portrays both the facts and historiography of the crusade unrealistically. If he has read half the books on his bibliography he would know that himself. He has failed to take into account the 'Riley-Smith' doctrine that does indeed contend that crusaders were motivated by religious belief. The idea that the crusades were defensive against four hundred years of Islamic aggression is almost laughable. This is an attempt at history written from an unqualified perspective. If you want an overall, accessible history I might suggest other texts like 'Holy Warriors' by Jonathan Phillips or 'The Crusades' by Thomas Asbridge. However, if you want a skewed impression of the Crusades from a defensive Christian position, I would recommend this book.
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God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades
God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades by Rodney Stark (Paperback - 9 Nov 2010)
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