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The Monks of War: The Military Religious Orders (Arkana) Paperback – March 1, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Seward's 1972 title profiles military religious orders that emerged during the Crusades. This revised edition brings the information up-to-date.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"Undeniably the work of someone who knows and accepts the standards of critical history, but … who sees the past also as an epic or a colourful spectacle"
—Professor David Knowles in The Times Literary Supplement

"His scholarship is great, his theme both interesting and largely unexplored and his judgment sound"
Economist

"The book is excellent and firmly based on the primary sources of which Seward has a remarkable grasp."
New Society

"Compulsive reading, attractively written, and retaining one's fascinated interest throughout"
Catholic Herald

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Product Details

  • Series: Arkana
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140195017
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140195019
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #499,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By James Paris on March 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
We Americans don't really stray far from Western Europe in our knowledge of history. But from its very beginnings, Islam presented a clear and palpable threat to the West. Spain had already succumbed, and France was threatened by the Moors. Most shocking, the Holy Land was occupied by Turks. (Think of the response if we were to occupy Mecca and Medina!)
Europe responded by the Crusades, about which we know a little, and with the military monastic orders such as the Knights Templar and Knights of St John Hospitaller, about whom we know next to nothing. These were men who lived a monastic (or at least semi-monastic) life and who acted as Christendom's shock troops in the war against the Saracen.
The Crusader kingdoms of the Middle East finally fell after 300 years of constant strife, but the idea caught on in Spain in the drive to expel the Moors and in Prussia against the surrounding Northern Slav Pagans.
Perhaps the most stirring tale Seward tells is of the strife between the Knights of St John, having been expelled by the Turks from Rhodes, recovering brilliantly in the siege of Malta in 1565. After demolishing a force of 30,000 with only 6,000 men, the Knights ever after became known as the Knights of Malta.
Other reviewers have complained that this is a difficult book. It has to be: Almost a thousand years are covered, not to mention a score of countries. Think of it as a very dense appetizer to lead you further into what is surely one of the most exciting epochs of our history.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Bob Mulle on March 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
Much can be said for this fine piece of historical writing. First, the book covers in detail a subject that is generally dealt with as a curiousity at best. The author does justice to the motives, organization, methods and mentality of those organizations that made up the military orders. As has been pointed out, the writing can be a bit dense, but this I attribute to a British author's assumption that his readers will be well educated in the general history of the period; so too bad us, not too bad him.
Aside from the numerous facts and anecdotes which illuminate the book, I found the work of particular interest to one who struggles to understand the medieval mind. We moderns can only scratch our collective heads when confronted with a concept like "monks of war". However, once the mind is opened to the reality of the period, and the mindset of an age of faith, much that has been lost becomes understandable again.
Thus, the greatest value of this book is that it takes the reader on a journy of discovery to a world that belonges to each of us. The Crusades, La Reconquista and numerous other episodes can now be studied in their true light.
This is a book well worth reading.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Guillermo Maynez on October 13, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very good introduction to the history of the military religious orders: Templars, Hospitallers of Saint John (today Knights of Malta), Santiago, Calatrava, Alcantara, Teutons and others. The first ones, Templars and Hospitallers, were founded in the XII Century, after the First Crusade, in order to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land and to provide humanitarian and medical services. Soon, these monks became more warriors than anything else, true machines of war which came to be the first organized and properly trained and disciplined professional elite troops in the West since the Roman Empire. The West and Islam lived then (and still do) in a permanent state of threat and holy war. Although these warriors made vows of poverty, obedience and chastity, they soon accumulated enormous riches, fighted one another and their discipline, especially in sexual matters, relaxed.

The first part of the books tells the two centuries of Christian occupation in the Holy Land, which the Islam had taken by force centuries before, and where, despite some resounding successes, the Christians ended up being totally defeated and expelled, to this day. The second part tells the story of the Crusade in the Baltic, performed by the Teutonic Knights against the pagan Slav Prussians, terrifying cannibals adoring spirits in trees, as well as snakes in the woods. These Teutonics founded what was probably the first "modern" state: Prussia (the German one). This story is practically unknown, in spite of being totally fascinating. The third part is the Reconquest of Spain, where the orders were crucial in defeating the Moors. Then come the stories of the Hospitallers in Rhodes and Malta -also wonderful- and then what became of the existing orders today.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Curow on July 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
I agree with what the others have posted here. I found The Monks of War to be an excellent resource for anyone interested in the details of the various military orders, their general history, and some of their more prominent members and activities. If you want to start to get to know the orders and their deeds, then this is the best place to start. The only drawback is that Seward's writing is thick and makes for a tough read. This is not light, easy reading about the Crusades. You will, at times, be bored, and at other times be a little confused by the details (and why some of the details are at all important). I think Seward was aiming to cover as much general information about the orders (size, location of holdings, administration, aims, rites, etc.) and therefore does not go into great detail on the histories of the orders. Nonetheless, for those interested in the period and the orders, then this will always be an excellent resource. Now, what kind of cross did the Teutonic Knights wear into battle? Seward has the answer!
Not mentioned in the other reviews is the fact that this is comprehensive --- Seward manages to cover the less famous of the orders as well as the Templars, Teutonic Knights, etc.
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