Helen Nicholson's THE CRUSADES
I assigned these tags to this book review:
- History. The book traces the multitude of military campaigns and wars that took place during the Middle Ages that pitted the forces of the “Latin Church” against Islamic and a variety of other opponents.
- Religion. The fundamental, but by no means only, rationale for these campaigns and wars was the opposition of different religious beliefs. This opposition was sometimes between Christians and Muslims, sometimes between Christians and other “heretical” Christians, and sometimes between Christians and “pagans.”
- War. Sometimes the battles were between opposing forces on battlefields, sometimes they were betwen armies sieging opponents behind the walls of fortresses or cities, and sometimes they involved the slaughter of men, women, and children for reasons related to differences in religious faith.
Most of the book is a dry recitation of campaigns and battles grouped into major categories or groups. Chapters include:
- The Holy Land
- The Iberian Peninsula
- Northeastern Europe
- Crusades Against Heretics
- Crusades Against Ottoman Turks
In the final chapter “Conclusion: The Impact of Crusading on History” we finally read the author’s analysis of the significance and continuing effects of the details she supplied in the preceding chapters.
One interesting comment she makes is that the funding of the Crusades may have forcibly led to improved systems of administration (and taxation) which in turn set the stage for the growth of modern governments. After all, a lot of resources were required to supply the multitudes of military campaigns and expeditions that often required time-consuming travel from distant points in Europe and the Middle East.
While the theme of religion underlies much of the history that is recounted here, it isn’t the whole story. Yes, the occupation of the Holy Land by Muslims did stimulatea variety of Christian campaigns, some victorious, some failures. But intertwined among the various religions themes and the promise of “indulgences” by the Popes to the Crusaders as one inducement for civic involvement were politics and commerce. Kings and lords used the wars to secure land and political power. Commerce was expanded via the establishment of ports in remote locations.
The fundamental headscratcher is that the Catholic Church (called the “Latin” Church here) either actively promoted the crusades or indirectly supported them through the offering of “indulgences” in return for participation. How did an organization founded on ideas of peace and love come to justify the extensive uses of military force that are documented in this book?
This question is raised but never directly answered. Perhaps the answer is simply that the Church was a creature of its times, and Medieval times were brutal.
One could probably ask similar questions of other violent movements throughout history that involved some sort of religious or cultural foundation that seemed to contradict the underlying beliefs that were being promoted through violent acts.
As the details are presented in this book, one cannot help but appreciate the way that faith and politics were combined. Threatening one sphere of influence threatened the other. This in turn resulted in a violent response — as was common to the times.
We are still dealing with the consequences as the author points out in her analyses.
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