Review of the Novel The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land by Thomas Asbridge

The following is a book review on The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land.

The book was written by an author named Thomas Asbridge. Asbridge divided the book into an introduction, conclusion, and three parts. We are expected to pick one of the three parts and explain what we think Asbridge’s argument is. The first part of the book was about Christianity called the coming of the crusades, the second part about Islam called the response of Islam, and the third with a little mix of both called the trial of champions. I choose
the first part of the book because I grew up in a Christian family. Even though the first part was the longer of the three I felt that it would be the most interesting. Asbridge argues that the Crusades were held up as proof of the folly of religious faith and the base savagery of human nature, or promoted as glorious expressions of Christian chivalry and civilizing colonialism. Asbridge provides support to back up his argument by providing background information of what went on at the time of the Crusades. I do think that Asbridge’s argument and the supporting materials are convincing and believable. Asbridge gets his information to back up his point from written evidence from the Middle Ages: the likes of chronicles, letters and legal documents,
poems and songs; recorded in languages as diverse as Latin, Old French Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian, Syriac and Greek. Beyond these texts the study of material remains from imposing castles to delicate manuscript art and minuscule coins. I agree with Asbridge and believe that the Crusades were promoted as expressions of Christian chivalry and colonialism.

The first part begins with Pope Urban II giving a sermon that transformed the history of Europe. His words changed the entire crowd gathered at Clermont. Pope Urban called upon Latin Europe to rise up against the savage called ‘soldiers of Christ’ that reclaim the Holy Land and will release the eastern Christians. Pope Urban II calls Jerusalem the most hallowed site in the Christian cosmos. This just goes to show of how important of a city Jerusalem was at that time. Asbridge argues that Pope Urban II’s dehumanization of the Muslim world served as a vital catalyst to the ‘crusading’ cause and enabled him to argue that fighting against an ‘alien’ other was preferable to war between Christians and within Europe. I think that this clearly shows that this was a catalyst to how the Crusades began. Asbridge states that between 60,000 and 100,000 Latin Christians set off on the First Crusade. This is just a sign of how many people set off the First Crusade and can show how many people were involved. The first prince that committed to the crusade was Count Raymond of Toulouse, who was the most powerful secular lord. According to Asbridge there were five princes that were responsible for reclaiming Jerusalem.

The princes were Raymond of Toulouse, Bohemond of Taranto, Godfrey of Bouillon, Tancred of Hauteville and Baldwin of Boulogne. These princes and other leaders proved that the most powerful of weapons was a shared sense of purpose and indestructible spiritual resolution. This just shows of how times have changed and how leaders back then reacted to certain situations. The high point of Greco-Frankish cooperation was during the First Crusade when they captured Nicaea. The next task they had to achieve was siege Antioch. There was more than ten months of a delay and disillusionment, but the First Crusade began its final advance on the Holy City of Jerusalem.

According to Asbridge the city of Jerusalem was considered to be a Christian paradise. This is just one of the many times that goes to show of how important the city was during that time period. The crusaders assault on Jerusalem began on 14 July 1099. Raymond of Toulouse and his remaining supporters were positioned and ready to go while on Mount Zion. Raymond of Toulouse created a fixed payment of a penny for every three stones thrown into a ditch as infill, ensuring the rapid neutralization of this obstacle. Asbridge implies that construction located around his tower could play a key role. The Fatimids made a huge final attempt to stem the assault by employing their own ‘secret’ weapon. The Fatimids had a huge wooden spar that was
soaked in a combustible material, akin to Greek fire, which couldn’t even be extinguished by water. Asbridge describes how the Fatimids were trying to be tricky and thought they would of fooled their opponents. But Godfrey luckily stocked the tower with a supply of vinegar-filled wineskins which were used to take down the fire. Asbridge describes how the four major settlements of the decade were Jerusalem, Antioch, Edessa and Tripoli. During the First Crusade it was the Latin Christendom who had control of three out of the four ‘crusader states’.

Edessa’s downfall force the Latin world to launch a military expedition that would start the Second Crusade. According to Asbridge The Quantum praedecessores shaped the Second Crusade which helped to ensure a greater degree of uniformity in preaching and going some considerable way to create the notion by the pope. Asbridge argues that the document was the most important element to the crusade history because of its afterlife. Even though the encyclical was an important part to the Crusades the most unclear issue was the goal of the Second Crusade. One part to the encyclical that had an important message in clerical preaching was the promise of spiritual rewards; the suffering of eastern Christendom; fighting in the service and imitation of Christ. This goes to show how Christian would fight for their country and would do whatever it would take. Asbridge contends that the Second Crusade was an expression of the papacy’s ability to expand and direct the crusading movement. Asbridge illustrates a lasting impression by saying the question now was whether their greatly weakened forces could hope to achieve anything of substance and rekindle the crusading flame.

In conclusion I agree with Asbridge by saying the Crusades were promoted as expressions of Christian chivalry and colonialism. I think that even though the book was almost repeating at some points that you could tell were Asbridge was coming from. I believe that Asbridge showed what the main settlements of the time were with the main one being Jerusalem. I also feel that Asbridge put a lot of emphasis on the Quantum praedecessores to show of how important it was at the time and how it played a key role in the Crusades. I feel that the evidence Asbridge gave throughout the book shows that he sustains his argument and makes a very logical one.