On April 13, 1204, western Christians successfully toppled Constantinople, the capital city of the Byzantine Empire and arguably the most important port town of its day. The great library was destroyed, art works were stolen and defaced, and blood ran in the streets. The war was the Fourth - and final - Crusade, one of the most decisive and world-changing battles in history. While it is tempting to think of the Crusades as simply the stuff of history, one living, breathing man was there taking notes. He was Geoffrey de Villehardouin, Marshal of Champagne and Romania, and his eyewitness account of the conquest of Constantinople remains the earliest surviving historical prose narrative in French. John Franklyn-Robbins performs the text in a mature and spritely British tone.
This first-hand account of the noble, barbaric Fourth Crusade was written by Geoffroy de Villehardouin, a French nobleman who played a leading role in the war. The First, Second, and Third Crusades were an effort by Christians to free the Holy Land from the Turks, but the Fourth Crusade degenerated into a war of conquest amongst fellow Christians. Villehardouin's account provides important insights into the motivations of the crusaders in this most famous of campaigns, launched at the dawn of the 13th century.
Too often we think the Crusades were battles between Christians and Moslems over the so called "Holy Land". That was only a part of it. It was motivated by religious, political and economic factors and enhanced with a promise of an eternity in paradise. While the book presents the European warriors as saviors, the similarities to Al Quida are there. This book concentrates not on the battles over Jerusalem but rather on the conquest of Christian Constantinople by the European Christians. It sanitizes the events and presents Europe as the hero, to which I disagree, but it is still an important book to read, as too few understand the Crusades, and an understanding of the Crusades is an integral part of today's conflict in the Middle East.
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