Apocalyptic: I find that’s the best word to describe the year 1099 in the lives of those who undertook the First Crusade. Anyone who’d survived this long (3 years of continuous marching and war—crazy in and of itself) still had several more months before the attainment of the final goal: the city of Jerusalem. Along the way, death by thirst, hallucination, cannibalism, and frustrated lower classes rising up and seizing control of the whole enterprise from their “superiors” would mark the journey. The culmination of their efforts would leave a legacy that echoes to the present day.

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Slideshow:

Pictured:

  • 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.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post.

Thank You!

“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!

Slideshow:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pictured:

  • 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.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post.

Thank You!

Before you listen…

By the late second century BC, the Roman Republic had persevered and conquered through many disasters: so many, in fact, that conquest and eventual victory were taken for granted. In response to a barbaric tribal threat, a small group of selfish and complacent Roman aristocrats would bungle Rome into a catastrophe that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. The price for eventual victory would be freedom itself, as events were set in motion that would destroy the Republic and replace it with the autocratic Empire.

Check out this episode!

For Further Awesome Reading…

Fall of the Roman Republic by Plutarch

Plutarch wrote 150 years after the events of this book, but had quite a flair for biography. The story of the fall of the Republic is told through the “lives” of six several very important Romans, and the reforms of Gaius Marius kick off the list. Want to know how a civilization can crumble through the ambitions of its great aristocrats? Prepare to be educated.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

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Edge of History podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

 

Before you listen…

Guerrilla wars are hard to fight under any circumstances—as a guerrilla, you are typically outgunned and outnumbered in any one battlefield, and must deal with constant shortages in supply, medical equipment, and ammunition. Some of the few advantages to being a guerrilla are that at least you can blend in with the local population to hide when you are not fighting, and usually that population and its culture far outnumber your enemy’s army. How do you manage, then, when you have no ethnic and little cultural relation to that population, and the enemy’s armed forces are such that they outnumber the entire mass of the people for whom you are fighting—when the sheer weight of your religious faith has brought you to fight on behalf of an oppressed people, despite all of the obvious obstacles? Such was the mission of the greatest guerrilla commander of our generation, known as Ibn-al-Khattab, and his incredible successes against the full might of the Russian Army in the tiny republic of Chechnya are worth recounting.

Check out this episode!

For Further Awesome Reading…

A proper history of Khattab’s life has yet to be written, and may never be. The notable events of his life are too intertwined with wars, conflicts, and tragedies that remain fresh or are even ongoing. Many of the villains and heroes that were his friends and enemies remain alive, still actively coloring the way he is perceived with the agendas they have, from the jihadists who want to claim him as their own to the secular powers (and scholars) who want to group him in with the Bin Ladens of the world. The Russian government and its vast font of information: misinformation, disinformation, and everything in between, counts him as a primary figure in extreme Islamic “Wahabism.” Even Shamil Basayev, super-villain, nationalist hero, appropriator of extremist Muslim ideology and erstwhile ally of Khattab, knew better: “He is not a Wahabist; he is a Khattabist.” So much for a clear picture and a balanced biography.

He can partially be understood through the context of the Chechen Wars that came to define his career as a guerrilla. These too are difficult to research without running into plenty of bad or heavily biased scholarship (Mark Galeotti is a great example of this—I’m hardly a global security expert and I’ve found several egregious errors in his work, yet he’s a frequently consulted analyst, author of a prominent blog, and arrogant blowhard), or scholarship that dates itself by trying hard to be relevant to current events. Much of what makes for compelling reading can be found in investigative journalism and eyewitness accounts, in which you must beware and act as your own filter.

For history:

The Insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus: From Gazavat to Jihad by Robert W. Schaefer

Yes, this book is crazy expensive. It’s also the only legitimate history that lays out the foundations of Khattab’s war in detailed and balanced way while also showing its relevance to today’s world. Many people might think “What’s the Chechen War got to do with me? Or with anything?” Written by a Green Beret Colonel for a “lessons learned” approach to important international problems, this book has everything you need to know, although it doesn’t make for a “thriller” for the average reader.

Inferno in Chechnya: The Russian-Chechen Wars, the al Qaeda Myth, and the Boston Marathon Bombings, by Brian Glyn Williams

This is a ‘current’ popular history—one meant to try and grasp the people shocked by the Boston Marathon bombings into considering their greater context. This muddies it somewhat, as it’s written for the average American, but this also makes it more accessible, which is important in our times.

For investigative journalism:

Allah’s Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya, by Sebastian Smith

This book was riveting! You’ll read some criticism in Amazon reviews that it’s a biased account. This criticism actually kept me from reading the book for a number of years, until a friend of mine more or less insisted I read it. Ignore the Amazon criticism. Smith was embedded with Chechen fighters for some time during the war and that necessarily informs his view of events, but we get an excellent tradeoff in the quality and vividness of his firsthand accounts, often at the risk of his own life. He also does an excellent job providing historical context that’s easy to understand and does his best to provide balanced coverage from many sources. This book is a must read even without Khattab’s direct appearance and truly one of my favorites in war journalism of any kind.

Chienne de Guerre, by Anne Nivat

I admire Anne Nivat. While reporting for a French newspaper, she embedded herself with Chechen civilians, using her ability to speak Russian to blend in with the population while it was under attack from the Russian Army. She provided a unique and extremely important perspective on the Russian “re-invasion” in 1999, at a crazy risk to her own life. Women have always been particularly vulnerable in Chechnya’s rugged mountain culture (where “bride-snatching” is still not entirely a custom of the past), and this was especially so during the Russian reconquest, in which packs of soldiers known for rape and murder roamed the streets of Chechen towns. Khattab himself appears only briefly in her book and her depiction of him is not flattering, but the greater picture of who and what he fought for is rendered in stark and beautifully human detail.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Also, use our Amazon links on the book title or picture to check out and purchase a book or finish your other shopping on Amazon.   When you click the link, all of your other shopping supports the podcast whether you buy a book or not.

Thank you!

 

Edge of History podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.