Ep. 9: War for Peace: Prelude to the First Crusade

“Crusade” is a loaded word, and often code for the “bad” history in the cultural heritage of Western Europe. In this episode, I set the stage for some of the real characters in this widely misunderstood period, discussing the brutal realities of medieval Europe and the basis for anybody would be so “crazy” as to declare holy war.

Check out this episode!


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  • Alexius I of the Byzantine Empire
  • Map of Europe and the Near East at the time of the First Crusade. Sorry for the French: it was the only quality free map for the time period I could find!
  • 11th Century French knight. Note the difference in helmet style from what you might have imagined, and the armor that looks like fish scale rather than linked plates. The “classic” image of the knight comes from a later period.
  • Pope Urban II
  • Norman knights and archers, 1066

For Further Awesome Reading…

The Crusades 2nd Edition, by Hans Eberhard Mayer (translated by John Gillingham)

Part of my introduction to the Crusades, through my studies at Cornell University and progress to a specialty in this period. Mayer does an excellent job detailing the many different forces at work. It’s dense for the average reader and probably not for someone unwilling to come to grips with college-level writing, but the depth and quality of the analysis can’t be ignored.

The Crusades: A History, by Jonathan Riley-Smith

And/or… you could tackle this one. Riley-Smith is another premier historian of the period, and while less in-depth than Mayer, he’s a little more “readable.” He’s also valuable as companion to Mayer for the contrast in analysis and in the decisions of what to emphasize and what to downplay. How the two men each describe the fateful sack of Jerusalem in 1099 is an illuminating look into the biases of both.

Chronicles of the First Crusade (Penguin Classics), edited by Christopher Tyerman

It can be very hard to find well-edited and readable compilations of first-hand accounts from events in the medieval period. For that, this book is solid gold. Tyerman has done an excellent job assembling the best of the accounts from the people who lived through this extraordinary event in history.

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