The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land

Helen J Nicholson considers an engaging account of the Crusades

The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land
Author: Thomas Asbridge
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Reviewed by: Helen J Nicholson
Price (RRP): £9.99

It is good to see a university-based scholar writing for a wider audience. This book is aimed at the intelligent, inquiring reader who has little or no knowledge of the Crusades but wants to know more.

Thomas Asbridge has drawn on his extensive knowledge of the subject to write a wide-ranging history of the wars between western European (‘Latin’) Christians and Muslims in the Near and Middle East, from the first Crusade at the end of the 11th century to the final victory of the Mamluk sultan al-Kamil over the Latins at Acre in 1291.

Basing his account on both Muslim and Latin eyewitness and other contemporary accounts, he tells the story from both sides.

Asbridge shows that these wars simply continued a long series of conflicts between Christians and Muslims in the Mediterranean basin that had begun in the seventh century, and reminds the reader that the wars were a sideshow in Islamic history.

After 1250 “Latin Outremer [the crusader states] became the third, sometimes almost incidental, challenger in the struggle for mastery of the East,” as “two new oriental superpowers – the Mamluks and the Mongols – rose to prominence in the Levant” in a “monumental clash”.

Asbridge also explores the legacy of the Crusades and traces the development of the modern myths about them. He shows how the Crusades have been “appropriated, misrepresented and manipulated” for political ends.

He also reminds us that the Crusades belong “in the past”; they have no “direct bearing upon the modern world”.

The Crusades is well-indexed, and although there is no list of further reading, the notes refer readers to the original sources, indicating where modern translations of the medieval commentaries are available.

Helen J Nicholson is a reader in history at Cardiff University

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