Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A New Look at the Crusades

The Crusades have always excited political controversy, both at the time and since. They have sometimes been used as a stick to beat the Catholic Church, or to condemn modern western powers.

Instead, I have looked at the conditions in the East as they were before the Crusades, at the circumstances of the beleaguered population – a population that remained overwhelmingly Christian 400 years after the Arab conquest. This Christian East had recently suffered a new invasion, this time by the Turks who in 1071 overran not only Palestine and Syria, but also Asia Minor, a vast and prosperous part of the Byzantine Empire, and soon stood on the Bosphorus opposite Constantinople, whose emperor called to his fellow Christians in the West for help.

These dangers and oppressions in the East understandably aroused a reaction in the West. In 1095, Pope Urban II called for a Crusade, but neither Christianity nor the West was the cause of the Crusades. Rather, for centuries Islam had been on the attack. Already in the eighth century Muslim forces had occupied Spain; soon they invaded southern France, Sicily, and the toe and heel of Italy. In 846, a Muslim fleet even sailed up the River Tiber and sacked Rome. The Crusades were part of a centuries-long struggle between Islam and Christianity throughout the Mediterranean world.

So begins my recent newspaper article about my new book, The Tragedy of the Templars.  To read the complete feature, click here.