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The First Crusade: The Call from the East Hardcover – April 1, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


A dazzling book, perfectly combining deep scholarship and easy readability. The most important addition to Crusading literature since Steven Runciman. (John Julius Norwich, author of Byzantium)

In this fluent and dramatic account, Peter Frankopan rightly places the Emperor Alexios at the heart of the First Crusade and in doing so skillfully adds a dimension frequently missing from our understanding of this seminal event. Frankopan illuminates the complex challenges that faced Alexios and deftly depicts the boldness and finesse needed to survive in the dangerous world of medieval Byzantium. (Jonathan Phillips, author of Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades)

Peter Frankopan's reassessment of the Byzantine contribution to the origins and course of the First Crusade offers a compelling and challenging balance to traditional accounts. Based on fresh interpretations of primary sources, lucidly written and forcefully argued, The First Crusade: The Call from the East will demand attention from scholars while providing an enjoyable and accessible narrative for the general reader. (Christopher Tyerman, author of God's War: A New History of the Crusades)

Filled with Byzantine intrigue in every sense, this book is important, compellingly revisionist and impressive in its scholarly use of totally fresh sources. It refocuses the familiar western story through the eyes of the emperor of the east and fills in the missing piece of the puzzle of the Crusades. (Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Jerusalem: The Biography)

In a field near Clermont, France, on November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II issued a rousing call to arms, a march to Jerusalem to retake the Holy City from the infidel Muslims who for more than 20 years had been invading and conquering lands belonging to Christians. Four years later, European armies arrived in Jerusalem and drove out the Muslims, retaking the city for Christendom. Yet, as historian Frankopan, a fellow at Oxford, so forcefully reminds us in this cracking good story of political and religious intrigue, the real reason that Urban II rallied the forces that day was an urgent message from Alexios I Komnenos, emperor of Byzantium, whose political authority had begun to decline and whose empire was under attack on all sides by Muslim forces. Alexios called upon Urban, who sent troops immediately. Frankopan draws deeply upon the Alexiad, written several decades later by Komnenos's daughter, Anna, and he presents a vivid portrait of a man whose early political ineptness created division in his empire, but whose boldness launched the Crusades and changed the shape of the medieval world by expanding the geographic, cultural, and political horizons of Europe. (Publishers Weekly 2012-02-06)

In his project to give fuller credit to those Byzantine and Turkish leaders who actually caused the First Crusade, Frankopan proves refreshingly undaunted by the prospect of scaling the citadel of almost a thousand years of scholarship. He is like the Byzantine warrior he describes who invented an ingenious flying bomb, "coating young birds with pine resin mixed with wax and sulphur before setting fire to them and despatching them back to their nests inside the walls of the city he was besieging." Scholarly and yet accessible, and unapologetically partisan, The First Crusade, as any vibrant history should, is bound to set a lot of feathers flying...All in all, The First Crusade is a persuasive and bracing work. Peter Frankopan is not yet well known, but he deserves to be. One trusts him to go on ploughing his own furrow and not join the brat-pack of historians. (Nicholas Shakespeare The Telegraph 2012-02-06)

Highly readable...The First Crusade tells a complex story, but its presentation of political machinations, compromises and betrayals seems utterly convincing. The harsh truths of realpolitik are, alas, with us always. (Michael Dirda Washington Post 2012-05-02)

The Crusades have been at the center of Western thought for 1,000 years, and have been the subject of too many books to count: For Crusades buffs, it sometimes feels like there is nothing new under the sun, and for beginners, it can be difficult to know where to start. Oxford historian Peter Frankopan has crafted a narrative and an argument that will appeal to both groups. In the popular imagination, the First Crusade begins with Pope Urban II's stirring speech at the Council of Clermont in 1095. Frankopan reminds us there is another side to the story. The idea for the crusade, he writes, originated in the East, in a desperate yet strategic plea to the West issued by Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos, whose bold but misguided policies had placed his empire in grave danger. Much of the book is devoted to this often-overlooked Byzantine context, and it makes for a welcome rectification and lively reading. Frankopan's most interesting contribution is the idea that Alexios "knew how to appeal to Westerners," and created the Jerusalem objective as a selling point. (Benjamin Soloway The Daily 2012-04-08)

Frankopan's reassessment of the first crusade through the prism of Byzantium is a useful corrective to the mass of western-centric crusade history...This book offers an accessible and convincing account of the crusade, which was both concocted and executed under the long shadow of Byzantium. (Josh Glancy Sunday Times 2012-02-26)

Frankopan [writes] with tremendous literary verve...[The] cry to free Jerusalem has never been better expressed...Frankopan's creative revisionism pierces the armor of medieval history with a new weapon: the call of the East. (Colin Gardiner Oxford Times 2012-03-13)

That rare thing--a truly fresh interpretation of an old story. (Time Out)

Frankopan's qualities as a historian and a writer are of a high order...It is pleasing to see [the Byzantine view of the First Crusade] updated with scholarship and flair. (BBC History)

Frankopan's work will challenge scholars while interesting and entertaining general readers… The overall contribution of this engagingly written and well-researched book is substantial. (S. A. Throop Choice 2012-09-01)

About the Author

Peter Frankopan is Director of the Center for Byzantine Research at the University of Oxford.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; 1St Edition edition (April 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674059948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674059948
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #602,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By JPS TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Review first posted on on 12 February 2012. Book published in the UK on 2 February 2012

This book, draw from the author's PHD thesis, aims to show that the First Crusade was initiated by the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnene. It puts him squarely on the center of the stage as the one who put in motion the chain of events that led to the First Crusade. The reason for the Emperor to do this is that, according to Frankopan, the Empire was on the brink of disaster by 1095 and Alexios' rule had become unstable for he was blamed for this situation. Frankopan explains why the Emperor's role has not been recognized in all its importance up to now largely because both his daughter Anna in her Alexiad and most of the latter sources for the First Crusade, those written after 1107, have either minimized his importance or denigrated him.

This thesis is extremely interesting and, at times, fascinating. Frankopan is at his best when presenting the situation in Asia Minor between 1071 and 1096. In particular, he shows that Asia Minor was NOT almost entirely lost in 1081, when Alexios came to power. He also assumes that Alexios used Suleyman, a turkish chieftain, and then his good relations with the Seldjuk Sultan to control what was left of Asia Minor or even to recover ground and towns. This strategy, however, failed after the death of the Sultan, in 1092, as the Seldjuk Sultanate became torn by civil war and the various Turkish chieftains in Asia Minor each went their own way and tried to extend their territory.

There are, however, numerous problems with this book, or rather, with the methods that Frankopan uses to make his case. He often and repeatedly states a point without always providing any evidence to back it up.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Paris Demetriou on March 25, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
The first thing I read about this book was the product description on this site -- and it almost made me reject it out of hand: "untold history of the First Crusade", " long-ignored eastern sources (referring to the Alexiad -- probably the most well-known and studied of all Byzantine sources)", talk about the "Vatican's [sic] victory" and how this book helps us understand "Western Europe's dominance up to the present day" and how it "shaped the modern world"...well, it all makes it sound like the worst kind of pop history.

But it's not. Frankopan is, in fact, very clear and precise in his writing; he makes great use of a very broad range of sources, both Greek and Latin, without becoming tiresome; he uses quotes and extracts from his sources enough to give the reader a lively feel for the times; and he doesn't go off on wild tangents and theories ... for the most part -- it's that other part that hurts the book.

His thesis is simple : While Byzantium's role in the First Crusade has been " regularly noted", the Emperor Alexios's influence was, in fact, much greater than customarily acknowledged. In addition, Imperial control over Asia Minor and Syria, after Manzikert, lasted for much longer than is usually accepted.
With one hand then, the Emperor held a tight grip over the East -- until 1092 or thereabouts; with the other, he moved the crusaders from the West to Constantinople, like pawns, and from there to Jerusalem. In arguing this, Frankopan makes a number of unfounded claims that bother me; e.g.

The Turkish chieftain, or Sultan, Suleyman was the Emperor's man in the East. In an inspired -- as Frankopan would have it -- move, Alexios had allowed him to govern Asia Minor; a Byzantine governor might rebel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dennis L. Wilcox on July 26, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A very readable summary of the First Crusade and how it originally started with strategy by the emperor of the Byzantine empire to get assistance to ward off the Turks who were threatening his reign. A good story of political intrigue with good insights.
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