In God's Battalions, award-winning author Rodney Stark takes on the long-held view that the Crusades were the first round of European colonialism, conducted for land, loot, and converts by barbarian Christians who victimized the cultivated Muslims.
To the contrary, Stark argues that the Crusades were the first military response to unwarranted Muslim terrorist aggression. Stark reviews the history of the seven major Crusades from 1095 to 1291, demonstrating that the Crusades were precipitated by Islamic provocations, centuries of bloody attempts to colonize the West, and sudden attacks on Christian pilgrims and holy places. Although the Crusades were initiated by a plea from the pope, Stark argues that this had nothing to do with any elaborate design of the Christian world to convert all Muslims to Christianity by force of arms. Given current tensions in the Middle East and terrorist attacks around the world, Stark's views are a thought-provoking contribution to our understanding and are sure to spark debate.
©2009 Rodney Stark; (P)2009 Tantor
"An excitingly readable distillation of the new, revisionist Crusades historiography." (Booklist)
"God's Battalions" has the unfortunate subtitle, "The Case for the Crusades." That makes it sound more polemical than it appeared to me as I listened to it. Rodney Stark seems to be arguing, not that the Crusades were a righteous cause, but that the European participants THOUGHT they were a righteous cause, and that we should take their declared motivations seriously. It's not so much pro-Crusades as it is anti-anti-Crusades.
Stark doesn't think the Crusades were a cynical grab for land and power. By analyzing family connections and financial data, he argues that most people who went on the Crusades did so at tremendous cost, sometimes bankrupting themselves in the process, for little or no material gain. He concludes from this that they truly felt they were participating in a "higher cause."
Stark's strong suit is using sociological and economic data to fill in the historical picture. Surprisingly, he manages to do this without turning the book into a dry thesis: he sticks to a strong narrative line, filled with battle descriptions, anecdotes, and extensive quotes from letters and other contemporary documents. Most of all, he tries to be specific: which families were involved, which groups participated in pogroms, which factions (Christian and Muslim) set off the conflict, when did accusations of conquest and colonialism first arise.
The narrative is crafted into a compact and comprehensible outline that makes the book a useful introduction to the subject. Of course, I have to admit, in saying that, that this IS the first book I've read on the subject. I was drawn to it by the liveliness of the writing (and the excellence of David Drummond's narration) more than anything else. Even if Stark's analysis fails to stand up over time, he has included a wealth of information in a concise and very well-organized format.
yes. I think the authors case is well-built overall. It's another area where the rhetoric of modernity had me blinded a bit. Stark is a good myth buster.
Much less like a textbook and much more like an enjoyable read. The author goes through all five crusades breaking down some of the biases which we moderns have picked up. Interacts with 19th and 20th century arguments.
I found myself very much agreeing with the author's perspective from my limited study of the time.
very nice job of clear reading.
sure, but it's not exactly a suspenseful thriller.
I think many historians in the years to come will see that Stark is basically right in much of his perspectives. It's good to know that the dark ages weren't really so dark. this work was also very balanced and showed some of the horrors of war and siege warfare.
Rodney Stark has done it again; he has taken 'common knowledge' and turned it on its head with characteristic adeptness and smooth prose. ApplyIng his great learning to the history of the Crusades, Stark shows that they were not early and unprovoked attempts at greedy Western colonialism, but instances of pious 'penitential warfare' in the Augustianian just war tradition. They were the reactions of the pious to the religious colonialism of Islam in the tradition of Mohommed, which conquered pagan and Zorastrian Arabia and Mesopotamia, Hindu and Buddist India, and Christian Asia Minor and North Africa before they were for a time beaten back by the Christian Crusaders. For a masterful popular history of this time, this book is a must read (or perhaps, must listen)!
Good book. Well researched. Well read. It is difficult to find a so called "history" w/o an agenda, and this one's is at least clearly stated: to counter a revisionist view of history that seems to condemn the crusades as motivated by barbaric "Christians" seeking gold and glory while the "high and tolerant" culture of an Islamic Middle East (increasingly accepted as truth)was being destroyed. The author makes a convincing case against such revisionist thinking. I think this book should be read and debated in a wide forum. I would also like to see more titles from Rodney Stark in the Audible catalogue.
I wanted to like this book - not because I am anti-Muslim but because I do think that, for a variety of reasons, much modern scholarship is hypercritical of Western history and much less critical of non-western history. Don't misunderstand -- much of western history is not honorable -- however, the same can be said of other cultures and I don't think the West is worse than any other. In fact, in spite of many defects, it has been the fountain of freedom and equality as well as technology, etc.
Regarding this book, however, the author did not make a good case. What he said may well be true -- but he did not make a case for it. What's more, many times his argument seemed to be, "Yes, the Crusaders were bad but the Muslims were also bad and Eastern Orthodox Christians were without conscience (I am not Eastern Orthodox, btw).
In the end, I was left to conclude that he started with an assumption and then wrote about it.
I realize no one probably writes without bias, even when she/he tries, but I think we can get closer to the truth if we at least make the attempt. I did not feel I was closer to the actual truth after reading this book.
This is not politically correct!
Baldwin, and others like him sold everything of their of their worldly possessions and took their families, recruited an army and marched from France to the Holy Lands to defend the Christians who were being slaughtered by the Saracens as they tried to visit the Holy Lands. These people decided to commit their lives to defending these people and these sites for Christianity. It was a calling and they heard the call. They never intended to survive this Crusade and return to France, they were going to establish a defensive position in the Holy Lands or die trying. This was not a quest for riches, this was a quest to defend the oppressed Christians of the land.
Really, this was a compelling telling of the story.
One group of crusaders did not have enough money to arm themselves and fund their trip to the Holy lands, so they decided to attack the Jewish communities along the way since they decided that the Jews were evil anyway. The Jews were actually defended by Catholic priests in Cathedrals. This is contrary to the typical version of the story known today.
The next time you year someone defending the horrible acts by Islamic barbarians toward Christians or the West as a reaction to the Crusades some 9 centuries ago, listen to this book. It will set the story straight.
The historical research (historical reference from secondary sources) in this book isn't bad, while offering no new insight, the historical content is nonetheless, worth reading.
Having said that, there are many better books/lectures on crusade than this one, the unabashed anti-islam polemnic in this book borders on offensive, one can write good balanced history without resorting to bias. I seriously recommend Thomas F. Madden's Modern Scholar lecture "Understanding the crusade" before reading this.
I will not say this book is uninformative. It is, overall, a useful summary of SOME events leading to the Crusades and a description of battles, timetable, etc.
But the author's main purpose seem to be to counter some idiotic statements and actions by some in the west "apologizing" for the Crusades or saying that there was no "justification" for them -- as though the Crusades could be apologized for or needed justifications. The trouble is that, in the process of countering this foolishness, the author engages in what can only be called "spin" -- presenting questionable statements, half-truths or opinions for fact.
For example, in trying to say that the Islamic world did not support new learning because what learning there was was being done by the peoples the Moslems conquered. But the fact is that such learning WAS occurring, unlike in the West. The author says that the European Dark Ages were really not so dark because the invention of the plough, cross-bow, and other technical developments took. A discussion of the advantages of the plough includes more grain, thus more food, thus a larger and healthier population. He does not mention the global warming that occurred during this time that probably played greater role in increased food. He discusses massacres of monks (Byzantine) and pilgrims by Moslems but doesnt discuss, for example, the reported massacre of 2000 Muslim prisoners by Richard the Lionhearted or the killings of Europeans by the Byzantines in Constantinople in 1182.
There are many other discussable or equivocal statements, from the importance and use of crossbows to the killings of Jews by the Crusaders (which to me sounds minimized by the author when they were a horrible occurrance) at the starts of the Crusades. This has to be counted as "spin".
A perhaps useful book to start discussion, but not one to be taken as accurate in its particulars.
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