The first crusade was set in motion by Pope Urban II in 1095 and culminated in the capture of Jerusalem from the Muslims four years later. In 1291 the fall of Acre marked the loss of the last Christian enclave in the Holy Land.
This Pocket Essential traces the chronology of the Crusades between these two dates and highlights the most important figures on all sides of the conflict. It covers the creation of the kingdom of Jerusalem and the other crusader states and their struggle to survive. It looks at the successes and failures of the Third Crusade and at the legendary figures of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, explores the truth and the myths behind the orders of military monks like the Hospitallers and examines such strange historical events as the Children's Crusade and the crusader sacking of Byzantium in 1204. It also looks at the struggles of the Teutonic Knights against paganism in the Baltic.
The book provides the essential information about one of the great unifying, and disunifying, forces of medieval Christendom.
The crusades have inspired both the very long (Steven Runciman's classic three-volume history) and, now, the very short, exposition. Paine, author of Ancient Greece, does an admirable job in condensing this riveting and often confusing history into just over 130 pages, offering much more than the book's slim stature might suggest: the macabre end of Frederick of Barbarossa, whose army dutifully carried his pickled corpse into the holy land; and the Children's Crusade, whose young participants could not survive the treachery of their older Christian brethren (many died or were sold into slavery) before having a chance to fight the wicked Saracen. This short account lacks the nuance with which many scholars have treated the subject; readers will find very little on the manifold causes and the controversies of these holy wars or of their nachleben, the elaborate mythology and works of art and propaganda they continue to inspire. (Paine does mention President Bush's use of "crusade" in a "war on terror" speech.) The book is hurt by its lack of clear maps and illustrations and by its occasional lapse into a glib or colloquial style. (Referring to the Templars as "cocky" seems anachronistic.) That said, this is a perfectly readable and brisk introduction that should stimulate readers new to the subject. 1 map.