The Crusades Paperback – Oct 1 1999
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From the Back Cover
A series of books on the history, organisation, appearance and equipment of famous fighting men of the past and present; and on other aspects of military history which demand fuller and more flexible coverage. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Dr David Nicolle was born in 1944 and worked for the BBC, including the overseas broadcasting Service before returning to university, obtaining his PhD in Edinburgh. He subsequently taught at Yarmouk University in Jordan, since which he has contributed a substantial number of Osprey titles. He is a specialist in medieval arms and armour and has written several hardback books as well as numerous articles for specialist journals. He has also presented papers at many international conferences.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I'm not placing all of the blame on the author however. Osprey Publishing was simply a bit overzealous in thinking that it could cover a series of events that took place over hundreds of years in a single 96-page volume. Whereas the Civil War and Napoleonic Wars are covered in four volumes each, and World War II in six, the entire series of individual crusades is covered in a single volume. What you end up with is a very brief skimming of the overall picture and outcome of the Crusades. Hardly any time at all is spent on individual crusades, much less individual battles (which you get so much of in other Essential Histories).
Also, throughout this book the author downplays the importance of the Crusades to the people of the Mediterranean and Middle East. What he fails to adequately portray is the long-standing and powerful beliefs and feelings that these events have cast on history ever since.
The only really good part of this book is the multitude of excellent pictures, showing everything from architecture to weaponry of the time. Still, of the Essential Histories I've read, this was my least favorite and definitely the least informative. I recommend starting with others.
A nice introduction, but once again, a bit too much time period to make it one of the better books in this series. But for a 88 page book on the subject, it's well done.
Secondly, the author is a great scholar of Islamic warfare, and authored some incredible books that I count among my favorites. But when there is interaction between his favorite study subjects and the western "barbarians" there goes scholarly impartiality. And the main issue is that he then forgets or ignores basic info and the omissions are omnipresent. In a recent book by David Nicolle he even reports that Saint Ignatius of Loyola was a Portuguese Knight!
I was born during a fascist regime, and most history books published in those days (which I’ve read in my infancy) was filled with prejudice against the moors and Islam in general. They were clearly the “evil” foes and our heroes of the Reconquista were paragons of virtue. That way to show history to the public creates prejudice, a sense of us against them, a sense of superiority of our ethnic, cultural and religious thoughts, etc. And I truly thought that in the 21st century that way to write history was almost dead. But this book proves me wrong, although the target now are the westerners! The Islamic world being white washed of all wrongdoing and being the poor victims of senseless and unprovoked Frankish attack. This kind of victimization and partiality in the transmission of the facts leads to profound prejudice and hatred for the western world which can create fanaticism.
After reading this book you’ll “learn” that:
1 – The conflicts between Islam and Christian powers before the crusades were low scale;
2 – Before the crusades there was no excessive violence or atrocities between factions;
3 - Jihad was a response to the crusades (the author even translates it “counter-crusade”);
4 – Only after the crusades there were serious persecution of Christians in the Islamic world;
5 – After the initial Islamic expansion of the caliphs and the Umahyyad, there was no Islamic expansionism and outward attacks; the crusades reinitiated the Islamic expansionism;
6 – The main victim of the crusades was the Byzantine Empire;
7- Islam had the greatest scientific civilization and western Franks, although they weren’t as barbarous as the 10th century ones, were just slightly better;
8 – Most of the examples will show Franks in a bad light.
Now just some thoughts regarding the above mentioned issues:
1 – So, the complete destruction of Ani (the city of 1001 churches), the capital of Christian Armenia and one of the biggest cities of Asia Minor was low scale…and the conquest of half the Byzantine Empire…hummm
2 – The description of the immense slaughter at Ani in 1064 (35 years before the crusades) by the Arab historian Sibt ibn al-Jawzi will clear any thought that there were no Islamic atrocities before the crusades: “The army entered the city, massacred its inhabitants, pillaged and burned it, leaving it in ruins and taking prisoner all those who remained alive...The dead bodies were so many that they blocked the streets; one could not go anywhere without stepping over them. And the number of prisoners was not less than 50,000 souls. I was determined to enter city and see the destruction with my own eyes. I tried to find a street in which I would not have to walk over the corpses; but that was impossible. “
3 – Do I really need say anything regarding the third issue??? Really?
4 – Well, here David Nicolle is mostly right. Although there were special taxes for Christians and some limitations regarding visible crosses and bells, attacks on Christians were rare and usually from bandits and marauders;
5 – Wrong again; The Islamic Caliphates never ceased to invade or raid western lands when the opportunity arose, even after the initial Umahyyad caliphate expansion (ex.: The Aghlabid (loyal to the Abbasids) attacks on Rome in 846 and 849; Sicily on the ninth century was invaded and attacked several times). Obviously when they sensed that they had no chance they ceased that course of action (ex.: After twice failing the conquest of Constantinople In the 7th and 8th cent.);
6 – The fourth crusade was a disaster for the Byzantine Empire, and the rise to mercantile power of the Italian city states severely affected Byzantine commerce; but without the crusades the Eastern Roman Empire would have no buffer after the terrible loss of Anatolia (their prime recruiting grounds)…so the authors opinion is debatable;
7 – Mostly true. Islamic world was far more scientifically advanced, but the Franks weren’t properly ignorants. Western architecture in the 10th-11th century is clearly more impressive than Islamic, with incredible innovations both in civil, religious and military architecture. It required solid scientific knowledge to build a huge cathedral.
8 – In this book you’ll find excerpts of Muslim merchants and Frankish pirates; all referred Muslim victories are crushing victories, but Arsuf is just “little more than a failed ambush”; when quoting Baha’ al Din Ibn Shaddad where he states that Frankish armor was impervious to their arrows the author inserted brackets stating “at long range” when there is nothing of the sort in the source (Baha’ al Din Ibn Shaddad don’t mention that the shots were at long range); the main reason for the fall of the crusader states was the reorganization of the Mamluk Sultanate (it had nothing to do that by the end of the 13th century (and most of its history by the way) the crusader states had minimal resources in manpower and materiel (except when there was a crusade going on)), etc.
There are some very valid points in this book and occasional excellent strategic analyses, such as the evaluation of the impact of the crusades, the fact that it was a side show compared to the Mongol invasion, very good photographs of artifacts and sculptures, fine maps and city plants describing some main attacks and sieges, including: General map of the crusades; Jerusalem under crusader occupation 12th Cent; 12th Cent Damascus and the siege of the city by the second crusade in July AD 1148; The struggle for Egypt (1163 -1250); Krak des Chevaliers; The crusader states at their greatest extent c. AD 1144; Constantinople and the fourth crusade; The Mongol invasions of the Islamic world and Europe; Crusader Acre and the Mamluk siege of 1291; The Mamluk Sultanate c. AD 1295 and the end of the crusader states.
As an Essential History title, it fails. There are far better introductions to the crusades.