I love reading history of all sorts, and the last few years have seen a significant variety of subjects, including the Western nations in China, World War II in Southeast Asia, the East India Company, the Wars of the Roses, the Civil Wars in Britain and Ireland during the time of Cromwell, and the US Civil War. All of them have been challenging and eye-opening, but in that time I have been struggling to get through a very wide-ranging and amazing book. The topic at hand: the Crusades. It has been a case of realizing that everything you know was wrong.
God’s War: A new history of the Crusades, by Christopher Tyerman, is lengthy (922 pp.) and very densely written. I had to stop many times in order to take in what was going on. It was never strictly a campaign in the Holy Land against Muslims, as the occupation of Outremer involved a modus vivendi with the surrounding nations. It also included:
- the taking of Constantinople, inhabited by fellow Christians,
- campaigns against the Moors of Spain (which only ended in 1492,
- the Albigensian crusade against the supposedly heretic Cathars in the south of France,
- the Baltic crusades against the remaining pagans in Europe,
- campaigns against the Ottomans following the fall of Constantinople in 1453,
- campaigns against various Italian states on behalf of the Pope
Take into account the creation of the various military orders (eg, the Templars, Hospitallers and the Teutonic Knights), the status conferred on those who “took the Cross” (ie, the crucesignati) to fight on behalf of Christendom, and that the entire history lasted from the 11th to the 16th Centuries, and you realize you are only scratching the surface on the entire affair. The world was a complex place even back then.