“God Wills It!”: Understanding the Crusades by Professor Thomas Madden of Saint Louis University. A series of 14 lectures produced by Recorded Books, Prince Frederick, Maryland. Seven CDs, 2005.
The study of warfare is a constant effort, and for some a passion. Among the joys of being a student of military affairs serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, is that you can find many like-minded friends to discuss books, CDs, and documentaries. Among the conflicts that should be carefully dissected are the crusades, a series of wars between European Christians and Muslims of which fragments have been used for political purposes and to incite religious hatred. Usama Bin Laden refers to the west as crusaders, and regrettably some have referred to the war on terrorism as a crusade, which has agitated feelings in the Middle East. This is why a careful study of the crusades is necessary in the 21st century and this set of CD lectures offers a great beginning to supplement further readings on the subject.
The first two lectures lay the groundwork for the crusades. Byzantine Emperor Alexius I (1081-1118) requested assistance from Pope Gregory VII against the Seljuk Turks. However, the pope's quarrel with German Emperor Henry IV made it impossible to respond. It was not until the request was renewed in 1094 that Pope Urban II was in a position to respond. Professor Madden does a marvelous job dissecting the theological justifications created to incite the crusades.
On a strategic level it lessened the level of violence in Europe be directing it at the Middle East, tactically it was crafted as a form of warrior-pilgrimage in which indulgences and sins forgiven for those that die fighting Muslims. In 1099, the Muslims were divided between the Fatimids, the Turks, and other factional princes, allowing for the capture of Jerusalem during the First Crusades.
As you listen to the CDs, you will appreciate the complexity of the crusades, a series of alliances between European Christians and Byzantine Christians that then switches to alliances between Muslims and Byzantine Christians. Even crusader leaders would cut deals with such figures as Salah al-Din (Saladin). Whenever Christians put aside their differences they ascended, and likewise whenever Muslims united they triumphed, in an ebb and flow that lasted under four centuries. When Saladin unified both Syria and Egypt, the crusaders were in trouble, and in 1187, he recaptured Jerusalem.
The lectures do not dissect the tactics of different crusader battles like the Battle of Hattin, and Professor Madden does fully explore the influence the crusades would have on the intellectual development of Europe from returning crusaders exposed to Muslim agricultural, scientific, and architectural achievements. The lectures do offer an excellent analysis of the evolution of the different Knight Orders, like the Knights Templar, and Knights Hospitaliers. Among their innovations was Europe's first modern banking establishment, allowing a person to deposit finds in Europe and cash them in Jerusalem for pilgrimage. Their business would be coveted by European leaders.
The last lecture discusses the legacy of the crusades in modern memory, with European imperialists and militant Islamists would use fragments of crusader history to justify their respective agendas. The lectures booklet contains an excellent list of recommended readings to enhance your understanding of the crusades.
Editor's Note: Commander Aboul-Enein teaches part-time at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, and is author of “Militant Islamist Ideology: Understanding the Global Threat,” published by Naval Institute Press. He maintains a regular book column in the NDW Waterline.