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Extremely Ambitious - And Mostly Successful
on August 17, 2005
This is a collection of sources relating to the Crusades. As always, I'm a big fan of these types of works. The editors have compiled 104 sources ranging in scope from 4th century accounts of pilgrimages to the Holy Lands to Vasco de Gama's late fifteenth century explorations.
The sources used are wide-ranging and broad in scope. Among these are Augustine of Hippo's treatise on the Just War, a variety of sources regarding the Crusades to the Holy Lands including accounts of the Calls to Crusade, the state of the various Latin kingdoms in the East, works relating to the transformation of the Crusades from an effort to retake the Holy Lands to a variety of religious undertakings such as the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars and the German Crusade against the Wends and finally how the Crusading spirit evolved into European Colonialism. Muslim sources are heavily utilized and provide a good deal of insight as to how the Arabs viewed the invaders from the West.
The authors have selected sources that do an excellent job portraying several aspects of the Crusades. The Call to Crusade and the response to it in the late 11th century is very well covered as are the continual conflicts among leaders of the Latin Kingdoms and how this contributed to the eventual loss of the Holy Lands. The Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople is well detailed. The religious fervor accompanying the Crusades and the excesses that resulted from this as evidenced by the People's Crusade are well done, as are the accounts of the Children's and Shepherd's Crusades. I felt the segment covering the Reconquista in Spain was particularly well done. The plight of the Jews, caught up in a conflict that was never intended to involve them, but which resulted in massive hardship, is also well represented. Above all, this work amply demonstrates that there was more to the Crusades than just the conflict between Arab and Latin in the Holy Lands.
However other areas were not as fully covered as I would have liked. The constant conflict between the Byzantine Empire and the Latins was a critical factor in the eventual failure of the Latin Kingdoms and, while an excerpt from Anna Comnena's _The Alexiad_ details one instance of this, I wonder if more attention might have been given to the later years. One work details the unification of the Arabs however this, as well as the Abbasid defeat of the Fatimid Caliphate under Saladin and the subsequent implications for Arab success are not heavily covered. An account of the Captivity of Richard I following the Third Crusade would have provided an excellent example of how Papal control sometimes went for nothing. In addition, the schism between the Eastern and Western Church and the implications this held for the West aiding the Eastern Empire as the Seljuk Turks advanced in the 15th century is not covered at all.
This is an extremely ambitious effort by the editors - and I wonder if it is simply too ambitious. The Crusades covered a four-hundred year period and grew to encompass nearly all of Western Europe as well as the Occident. This is a massive undertaking and possibly too great for any single work, however well done, to do justice to.
Yet this remains a fine work. Despite my criticisms, this is a valuable addition to the library of anyone seeking to gain a greater understanding of the Crusading movement, its impact on East and West, and how the movement evolved over time.