Customer Reviews: The First Crusade 1096-99: Conquest of the Holy Land (Campaign)
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VINE VOICEon November 22, 2003
Compared to Dr. David Nicolle's earlier volumes for Osprey, which while scholarly written have tended to digress on esoteric archaeological issues, his volume on the First Crusade is on track and focused. Dr. Nicolle's summary of the amazing First Crusade is enhanced by the structure provided by J. France's Victory in the East: A Military History of the First Crusade (1994). Dr. Nicolle is also wary of earlier narratives of the Crusades that slighted the role of the Byzantines and provided minimal perspective from the Turkish and Fatimid points of view; indeed, this summary is notable for its consistent attention to historical balance (some readers may feel that the Crusaders themselves get overly short shrift).
The First Crusade begins with a 6-page section on the origins of the campaign and a detailed chronology for the years 1095-1099. As Nicolle sees it, the First Crusade was primarily in response to the weakness of the Byzantine Empire after the disaster at Manzikert in 1071 - theories that the Crusades could have also been motivated by domestic or religious factors in Europe are not seriously entertained. The sections on opposing leaders, opposing armies and opposing plans is adequate for a volume of this size, but the lack of any attempt to construct at least a bare-bones order of battle for the Crusaders is annoying (others have tried). The centerpieces of the volume are the three 3-D "Birds Eye View" maps (the Battle of Dorylaeum, the Siege of Antioch, and the seizure of Jerusalem) and the three-color battle scenes (the Battle of Dorylaeum, the Battle outside Antioch and the Massacre in Jerusalem). The subjects of these color maps and illustrations are well chosen and convey some of the vital highlights in the campaign. There are also five 2-D color maps: the Christian and Islamic Worlds in 1095, the Crusaders' routes to Constantinople, Operations in Anatolia, campaigns in Syria and Palestine, and the Battle of Ascalon. The author also provides a decent bibliography and a section on touring the battlefields today.
Dr. Nicolle's campaign narrative is 57 pages long and covers the Crusader's operations from Constantinople to the Battle of Ascalon, a period of about 28 months. As usual, Dr. Nicolle is generally effective in detailing the facts behind a historical incident, but he is unable to instill much drama or passion into a campaign that was clearly driven by intangible factors of willpower and zeal. Indeed, on the objective level, the First Crusade should have failed due to poor logistics, poor knowledge of local conditions and insufficient military advantages over the indigenous forces. One puzzling omission is why Dr. Nicolle rarely makes references to troop strengths or casualties in this account; for example, many accounts estimate that the Crusaders suffered about 4,000 casualties at the Battle of Dorylaeum - but why is that omitted here? Without much reference to numbers (even estimates), the reader may not realize that the Crusaders lost about 70% of their troops in the course of these 28 months, or that they were usually outnumbered 3-1 or worse.
Perhaps Dr. Nicolle's most interesting observations for modern readers is the author's assessment that the Crusades were initially met by apathy in the Arab world, which goes a long way toward explaining how such a poorly-planned military expedition could pierce so deeply into a sea of enemies. Nicolle notes that, "it took a long time to motivate a counter-jihad to mirror the enthusiasm of the Crusade," and that for several years after the end of the First Crusade, the Crusader conquests were held by only a handful of professional troops. It is clearly amazing that neither the Turks nor Fatimids were able to annihilate such a tiny European force in their midst, and a force that did not receive substantial reinforcement for more than a decade. It is interesting to contrast this protracted Arab apathy then, with today's Islamic fundamentalist portrayal of the Crusades as such a cathartic event. Perhaps it might be useful for modern Islamic societies to remember that foreigners were only able to intervene militarily because of inter-Arab divisions (even in 1097, the Sunni-Shia split was an open wound) and foolish leadership. In military terms, the Crusades should have been a non-event; the Fatimid navy dominated the eastern Mediterranean and the Seljuk Turks dominated central Turkey with a large, powerful army. However the greatest result of the Crusades, as noted by Nicolle, was a Sunni Muslim revival that "resulted in a hardening of attitudes to non-Muslims" and "less tolerance of Shi'a Muslims". We are still feeling the results of this revival to this day.
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on April 28, 2004
This is a good overview of the first Crusade and is well put together for reference purposes.

The book discusses the various aspects of the Crusades, such as reasons for its start, who were the participants and descriptions of the political climate at that time in both Europe and the Middle East. There are some very good descriptions of the structure of the Arab and Turk tribes and their internal construction and conflicts as well as the background of the European forces.

There are some very detailed descriptions of the key battles of the Crusades, how the troops on each side were composed, their strategies, some discussion on troop readiness, extenuating circumstances and influences, both real and perceived, as to why each battle was a success or failure. This book deals in factual history and is not overly romanticized or constructed.

The book contains some well researched material, with an excellent bibliography, a chronology table and is indexed for quick reference.

Outstanding features are the maps (by The Map Studio) showing not only the areas discussed, but also the military maps outlining the key battles of the first Crusade. They show topographical information, use military symbols for the troops and divisions and discuss military strategies and deployments.

Also worth mentioning are the many photos and graphics that grace every page of this book. The illustrations, done for the most part by Christa Hook, give a pictorial idea of the key players, some battle scenes and some impressions of how this may have appeared. Based on research of that era, the players come alive, dressed in their historical clothing, weapons, and gives us a visual impression of how the event may have looked.

The photos, most taken by the author himself, give you an idea of what some of these areas looked like when he took many of them in the 70's, and also includes art and architecture of the period. Many of these photos show places that are in areas where we can not travel today and provides a good window into the culture and places of the time.

This is a good reference book for students looking to do research on the subject as well as a good first book for those wanting to make themselves familiar with the First Crusade. While I have recommended it for grades as low as the 8th, this is easily a book grownups with no background on the Crusades can pick up and enjoy. medievalcrusadesbabe
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon February 10, 2007
Being very familliar with the many previous books by David Nicolle I was a little bit apprehensive beginning to read this one, because of his well known anti-Christian and pro-Muslim bias present in many of his older works. Well, all in all I was favorably surprised, because there is a clear effort of objectivity from his part on this still hotly debated topic. This is a very honest overview of the First Crusade, although, by necessity, quite short (Osprey Campaigns series are alway only 96 pages long). Certainly one can be a little surprised by the frequency with which author names the Crusaders army "a horde", and qualifies their commitment as "fanatism" and "hysterical religious intoxication". But I expected much worse.

Maps are very well done - this is a strong point in all David Nicolle books.

The really BAD point are the colour plates, the trademark of Osprey series - in this book they are simply horrible. Very vague, gray, without details usually present in most of the Osprey titles, with the faces of people almost fading. All in all these plates by Christa Hook belong more in a modern art museum than in a military history book.

Nevertheless it is still a honest book.
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on December 17, 2015
In 1095 C.E. (Common Era) Emperor Alexios of the Byzantine Empire sent an ambassador to Pope Urban II in Rome. The Byzantine ambassador carried a request for military aid from the west to aid Byzantine in their war against the growing Turkish threat to the Byzantine Empire. The Turkish threat was posited to Pope Urban II as being a threat to the Holy Lane. Pope Urban II issued a call for a Turkish crusade to march to the Holy Land and to defeat the "Turkish" forces there. Pope Urban and Emperor Alexios expected that knights and military armies would respond to the call. Many knights from Western Europe did respond to the call. However, it took time for them to prepare for the military engagement.

Actually prior to the real "first crusade" which was made up of military knights and armed infantry, there was a precursor crusade called the "peasants crusade" or the "people's crusade. This precursor crusade was made up of some 20,000 ordinary people from all classes and of all different occupations had been aroused by the preaching of Peter the Hermit and signed up for the crusade to the Holy Land. They were impatient to get to the Holy Land and did not wait for the knights and the military forces being prepared. With Peter the Hermit at the head they marched immediately for the Holy Land a year ahead of the real first crusade. Arriving in Constantinople, they were addressed by Emperor Alexios, who advised them to wait until the military forces arrived. However, as impatient as they were, the "Peoples Crusade" insisted on marching out and engaging the Turkish enemy immediately. They did so and fell into a Turkish ambush. Of the 20,000 people in the Peoples Crusade only 3,000 survived this engagement. Thus ended the precursor of the First Crusade. When the knights and the military forces arrived they formed the second wave of the first crusade and met with more success in their military engagements against the Turks.

This is a great short history and reference book on the colorful nature of the first crusade. It is first book in a series of books published by Osprey Publishing Company on the first four crusades.
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on February 27, 2013
By and large, this Osprey Campaign title is an acceptable introduction to the First Crusade because it is clear and makes the main and most important points. These include a rather good presentation of the context and situation of the Byzantine Empire in particular, and the Middle East in general, at the eve of the First Crusade. It also covers the rather close relationships between the Empire and the Fatimid Caliphate against the Sunni Seljuks (on the basis that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend"). Finally, it also includes a rather comprehensive of the whole Campaign up to aqnd including the battle of Ascalon, although it omits the march to Constantinople, and starts with the siege of Nicea.

Otherwise, the book follows the usual Campaign series format (Origins, chronology, opposing commanders, opposing forces, opposing plans, the Campaign, the Aftermath, the battlefields today). Also worth noting: while limited, the bibliography is rather good and omissions are mostly due to references which were published after 2003 (that is, after the publication of this volume).i

I had, however, two problems with this volume, and this is why I have only rated it three stars.

The less important of the two is that, like some other reviewers, I did not like the plates because I simply do not like Christa Hook's "impressionist" style, neither did I fancy her use of rather bland colours. Finally, I found it a bit of a pity that two of the plates, supposed to illustrate respectively the battle of Doryleum and the battle outside Antioch, are not in fact battle scenes. Rather, they show, respectively the Seljulks and the Crusaders advancing into battle. A related problem is with the battle and siege diagrams: the author has tried to cram so much information into them that they become difficult to read and understand.

While my first problem is a bit of a quibble and largely boils down to personal preferences, my second one is perhaps more serious. I simply found that this volume contained too many mistakes, typos, simplifications and approximations, and these start from the very beginning of the book. I have not listed them all, because this would be boring for just about everyone, including myself but below is a selection of six of them:

- The Emperor Alexios did NOT "decide to ask the Christian states of Western Europe for support". Rather, he asked the Urbain II, hoping that the pope would be able to raise a larger force of mercenaries on his behalf that what the Emperor and his predecessors had achieved through embassies over the past decades (for instance the 500 Flemish knights which fought the Petchenegues at Levounion, among others)

- Bohemond did NOT lead a major campaign (and invasion) of the Empire that ended in 1105. In fact, in 1105 and 1106 he was busy recruiting through France and Italy and building a fleet for this campaign, which only took place in 1107 and 1108 and ended disastrously for Bohemond

- I simply do not know where David Nicolle found that Alexios' cavalry was desperately short of horses at the beginning of his reign, to the extent that he had to buy some from the Muslims in Syria. More importantly, and even assuming that the statement is correct, the reasons for such a shortage are omitted and can only be guessed at (invasion of Kappadokia in particular, and Anatolia in general, by the Turks, and raids across Thrace by the Petchenegues perhaps?)

- Regarding the siege of Nicaea, two elements stand out. First, I do not quite know what makes the author believe that the Turkish garrison was "small". Since this was the Sultan's capital, where both his treasury and his family were, and it was a rather large city, one would expect, on the contrary, a rather significant garrison. Second, the author claims that the Danishmend were also present at Nicaea, alongside the Seljuks. I had always thought that they only appeared at Doryleaum after the Sultan had patched up an alliance with them, and following his first defeat at Nicaea

- The story about the "dispersal" of the first relief army led by Duqaq of Damascus by Bohemond and Robert of Flanders on 31 December is a controversial one and may even be misleading and incorrect. Rather than a Frankish victory, this seems to have been a defeat where the two leaders of what was essentially a foray to collect food bumped into the relief force and was almost surrounded and destroyed. What David Nicolle does not tell (and what appears clearly in John France's superb book "Victory in the East"), is that the two leaders and most of the cavalry escaped encirclement and saved their skins by abandoning their infantry to the Turks. This may also suggest that Duqaq' s force was NOT the "small army" that Nicolle makes it out to be, and it may also have outnumbered Bohemond's and Robert's foraging party

- Finally, I was much surprised to learn about the argument made by Nicolle on the existence of counterweight trebuchet artillery at the end of the 11th century in the Middle East, especially since he does not provide any concrete evidence. A six-week siege and bombardment using mangonels (or catapults) would be more than enough to breach the walls of almost any fortification at the time, contrary to what the author seems to be suggesting.
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on January 9, 2016
The Crusades were a complex phenomena, their impact going far beyond that anticipated by the instigators. The diverse European participants had a variety of motivations and when their fractious pre-existing relationships were factored in, it is remarkable that they achieved what they did. This volume spells out how this happened. The Muslim forces themselves were far from united. They were generally outnumbered too and the luck seemed to go with the invaders. It was fascinating to see the many factors both for and against the opposing players and their erratic allies. What is clear though is the brutality that resulted, with atrocities committed and communities destroyed. It’s always intrigued me that the Crusades had a romantic tinge to them. This book disabuses that notion.

This is another solid entry in Osprey’s Campaign series. The maps are informative – as much as they can be at least at this distance. Medieval sources, including Arab ones, allow a reasonably clear picture to be created of the events. There are some period images (art) to give a flavour of the times and some intriguing pictures of the places and ruins as they exist today. This is a good introduction to the topic. Highly recommended.
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on April 20, 2016
I wanted to refresh myself on the history of Muslim conquests and Crusades. Since I like Osprey Campaign format and already have dozen or so books in the series, I purchased at once three books by David Nicolle (Poitiers AD 732, The First Crusade 1096-99, The Third Crusade 1191). All three had to be returned. Author is hopelessly biased pro-Muslim and anti-European. His work cannot be possibly considered as historic research, the texts read more like propaganda pamphlets.
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on March 25, 2015
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