A History of the Crusades: Volume 1 - The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Penguin History): The First Crusade and the Foundation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem v. 1 Paperback – 28 Mar. 1991
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- Paperback : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0140137068
- ISBN-13 : 978-0140137064
- Dimensions : 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm
- Publisher : Penguin; New Ed edition (28 Mar. 1991)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: 557,853 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The first 100 pages are spent discussing the background to the crusades, looking at the struggles between Byzantium and the Caliphate and then the arrival of the Turks, and the collapse of the Byzantine Empire after the battle of Manzikert. We look at how Christian thought evolved with regards to war and how the church attempted to tame this in Western Christendom to little success, being forced to channel this into conflicts against the Muslims in Spain and the heathens in Germany/Poland, The book then takes a more detailed and day to day look going forwards as we follow the events of the actual first crusade itself. We look at the situation in Byzantium as it attempted to recover under the new Emperor Alexios, from the collapse due to the invasions of the Turks from the East and the Normans from the West and then at Pope Urban II's call to arms which kicked off the Crusade in response from an appeal for manpower from the Emperor Alexios of Byzantium (who got far more manpower then he wanted) and the movement of armies, from the rag tagged Peoples Crusade of Peter the Hermit to the more organized armies of the Crusaders. such as Raymond of Toulouse and Bohemand of Naples and Robert of Normandy. The book follows them as they fight through Asia Minor and Syria to the walls of Jerusalem itself and the surprise victory they achieved.
Steve Runciman first wrote this book in 1951, meaning that it is over 70 years old now. During that time even more work has been done into looking into why the Crusades happened, but in the end, I find it hard to escape the conclusions that the author subtly draws you to. The man writes with passion and flair drawing into the narrative and bringing to life some of the many people who took part in the events. The book is easy to read and has a great deal of footnotes and appendices to help elaborate on points and give further information. All in all this an incredible book and well worth reading if you want to know more about the Crusades.
In the modern age, political correctness demands that the Christian side must always be seen as murderous bloodthirsty savages to a man whilst the Muslims must be seen as invariably cultured and peaceful and unable to do wrong. In a pre-PC age Runciman is quite objective in his treatment of all sides - no-one was incapable of great atrocities, it was the nature of the age, even if the Franks were worse. His sympathies however, as a Byzantinist and admirer of Byzantine culture, do lean towards the Byzantines; he sees the era as being in effect the last act in the long history of barbarian invasions of the Roman empire - the uncouth destructive barbarian Frankish hordes overrunning the cultured Byzantium and the Middle East, the nadir being the Crusaders' capture of Constantinople in 1204.
Certainly it's hard going, but such a thoroughly researched work covers the full complexities of the history of a period often envisaged simplistically in the popular imagination as one of Christian versus Muslim, but which is more correctly one of a constantly shifting power game of rivalries and alliances - by turns Frank against Frank, Frank against Norman, Norman against Byzantine, Frank against Byzantine, Byzantine against Turk, Turk against Arab, Arab against Arab, Sunni against Shia, Catholic against Orthodox and so on.