As a history buff for some fifty years, I am well aware of how selective ommission and tactful use of dates, minor incidents etc... by a clever author can alter the perception given of any historical event. Even so, I found the general assumption taken by this publication that the Crusade's were fanatical acts of Christian aggression, to be so blatently at odds with historical reality that I feel driven to speak out. To understand the root causes of the Crusades in European/World history however, one must first understand the origin and growth of the Islamic faith; so I give a bare outline below:-
Born in 570AD, Muhammed's early life included periods as a merchant and diplomat. By 622AD having established the Islamic faith; he was the war-lord of Medina, leading a force of several thousand warriors in the conquest/conversion of the Arabian Peninsula; a 10yr campaign which included the massacre of the Bany Qurayza Jews in 627AD, and which culminated in the capture of Mecca in 632AD. Within months of this victory he died.
Made invincible by the blessings of Heaven, and obeying the command of a now revered Prophet to "Fight the unbelievers near to you!"; between the years 622AD and 750AD Islamic armies attacked and took Palestine, Egypt, Syria, North Africa, Armenia, Sicily and Southern Italy from the Byzantine Romans; conquered the Visigoths of the Iberian Peninsula; took Iraq, Persia, Afganistan and the Indus Valley from the Sassanid Persian Empire; attacked Constantinople, fought their way up into France, and even took a large slice of central Asia from the Chinese. The result of this Jihad/Sacred Effort was the sacking of innumerable towns/cities, the utter destruction of the earlier cultures, and the death of possibly millions of the predominantly Christian previous inhabitants. This steel tipped religious whirlwind terrified but also weakened the neighbouring Christian cultures; and response was both muted and fragmented. In 718AD the Spanish Reconquesta began an 800yr struggle which finally ended only in 1492AD; the year Columbus discovered America! while Islamic navies dominated the Mediterranean until the battle of Lepanto 1571AD.
On 26'th August 1071 the Byzantine Emperor Romanos IV deployed his army near the city of Manzikert, intent on preventing the conquest/invasion of his Anatolian provinces by the Seljuk Turks. It was a crushing Christian defeat from which neither the Byzantine Army or Empire ever recovered. Within a decade, the thousand year old Christian Anatolian culture had been given it's deathblow as the victorious hosts of Sultan Alp Arslan slaughtered their way to the walls of Constantinople. Behind their scimitars, a mass migration by the Children of the Prophet established the Islamic Sultanate now known as Turkey. Byzantium lost 20,000 dead, with another 40,000 wounded/captured at the battle of Manzikert alone, after which came 10/20 years of 'ethnic cleansing'; during which the Byzantine population/culture of Anatolia was erradicated. The fate of the 40,000 Christian captives was particularly grim. Most had their right hand and left foot cut off as per Koranic doctrine; while huge numbers of the general Anatolian population were blinded. Thus mutilated, hundreds of thousands of these unfortunates were driven toward Constantinople, to beg or starve.
This wave of human misery spread steadily north and west across Europe, begging at roadsides and church gates for a generation, and rousing Europe's people to fury as they did so. Two pub names 'The Blind Beggar' and the 'Saracen's Head' still recall memories of this time; the first is self explanatory, the second remembers the places where Christendom's warrior class outraged by the wanton cruelty; swore on oath to 'cut off a saracen's head' as they answered the Pope's call to "avenge the bleeding frontier crimes!". That call to arms came at Clermont, in November 1095AD, the start date chosen for this book; but was itself a belated response to more than 350yrs of savagery and genocide; when Pope Urban II, fearing the fall of Constantinople and the Islamic invasion of Europe, finally unleashed Christendom's version of the Jihad. This was a 'Crusade'; and the aim was the re-conquest/liberation of Jerusalem; which prior to it's capture by Muslim armies in 638AD, had been the Christian city of Aelia since Roman times.
Similarly, the implication that the Crusades achieved nothing is equally inaccurate; for the first time in 350yrs Christian armies were no longer defending but counter-attacking, and more importantly; winning! Although ultimately unable to hold the depopulated lands they liberated; the Crusade's broke what had previously been a mortal threat to European/Christian civilization.
When the full story is told; how an ever increasing number of modernday authors can suggest the Crusading movement was anything other than both fully justified and highly successfull, both amazes and saddens me.Crusades, 1095-1197 (Seminar Studies In History)
This Crusaders - like the author's other titles - is very readable, so the information is easily accessible. Not something one can often say about academic works. Highly recommend this as an essential read for this subject.