“As I write these words, it is nearly time to light the lamps; my pen moves slowly over the paper and I feel myself almost too drowsy to write as the words escape me. I have to use foreign names and I am compelled to describe in detail a mass of events which occurred in rapid succession; the result is that the main body of the history and the continuous narrative are bound to become disjointed because of interruptions. Ah well, “’tis no cause for anger” to those at least who read my work with good will. Let us go on.”
Anna Comnena, Alexiad 13.6, trans. by E.R.A. Sewter
Provided here are the responses of 33 medieval historians who were asked to provide a list of the top ten “most important” books on the crusades. Many of them are leading scholars in the field. Hopefully, it will be a useful resource for both students and interested readers. For more information, please see the Crusade Book List Project and to see each historian’s list click on their name below (or you can scroll and browse through them below). Please hit the back button to return to the contributor’s list. Also, check back in the future for additional contributions that will be added over time. This will be an ongoing project.
See also: The Most Influential Crusade Historians
David Abulafia– at Cambridge University (added August 8, 2017)
Michel Balard– at Université Panthéon-Sorbonne (Paris 1) (added Sept. 22, 2017)
Jessalynn Bird– at St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame (added July 27, 2017)
Andrew D. Buck– at Queen Mary, University of London (added July 30, 2017)
Megan Cassidy-Welch– at Monash University (added August 1, 2017)
Paul E. Chevedden– at The University of Texas at Austin. (added August 19, 2017)
Paul F. Crawford– at California University of Pennsylvania (added July 27, 2017)
Jaroslav Folda– at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (added August 15, 2017)
John France– at Swansea University (added July 30, 2017)
Daniel Franke– at Richard Bland College (added July 27, 2017)
Peter Frankopan– at Oxford University (added July 27, 2017)
Cecilia Gaposchkin– at Dartmouth College (added July 27, 2017)
Bernard Hamilton– at University of Nottingham (added September 26, 2017).
Andrew Holt– at Florida State College at Jacksonville (added July 31, 2017)
John D. Hosler– at U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (added July 27, 2017)
Kurt Villads Jensen– at Stockholms Universitet (added July 31, 2017)
William Chester Jordan– at Princeton University (added July 27, 2017)
Andrew Jotischky– at Royal Holloway, University of London (added August 29, 2017)
Benjamin Z. Kedar– at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (added August 21, 2017)
Svetlana Luchitskaya– at Lomonosov Moscow State University (added August 7, 2017)
Laurence Marvin– at Berry College (added July 27, 2017)
Nicholas Morton– at Nottingham Trent University (added August 23, 2017)
Steve Muhlberger– at Nipissing University (added July 27, 2017)
Alan V. Murray– University of Leeds (added October 21, 2017)
Helen J. Nicholson – at Cardiff University (added September 27, 2017)
Edward Peters– at University of Pennsylvania (added July 27, 2017)
Matthew Phillips– at Concordia University, Nebraska (added July 27, 2017)
Jay Rubenstein-at University of Tennessee, Knoxville (added July 27, 2017)
Iris Shagrir– at The Open University of Israel (added August 21, 2017)
David L. Sheffler– at University of North Florida (added July 27, 2017)
Corliss Slack– at Whitworth University (added July 27, 2017)
Susanna A. Throop– at Ursinus College (added August 11, 2017)
Christopher Tyerman– at Oxford University (added August 22, 2017)
David Abulafia – Cambridge University
The Ten Most Important Books on the Crusades – David Abulafia
I have looked for the books that in my view have had the greatest influence, particularly on scholarship in the English-speaking world, though one nomination is in French (having first been written in Hebrew) and another was originally in German, because both those works have had enormous impact. I have included the northern crusades, but otherwise I have concentrated on the Latin East, including books on the kingdom of Jerusalem; there was no room for studies of the wars in Spain or the Albigensian Crusade, nor of art history (Buchthal, Folda). Most of these books were written several decades ago, taking one back to an era when a small group of scholars, well-known to one another, dominated the study of the crusades and the Latin East; and I did not have space for excellent books by Hans Mayer and Jean Richard, who were also close to Prawer, Smail and Riley-Smith. All these really founded the subject as we know it. Previously, French scholars such as Grousset had dominated the field, and their work was often coloured by a romantic notion that they were writing about la France dans l’Orient.
Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, 3 vols.
Did you ask for the ten best books? Or my ten favourite books? No, the ten most important. And Runciman has been the starting-point for many of those who have become interested in the crusades, through the clarity (at the price of over-simplification) of his books, and the direction of his narrative, which excludes whole areas of crusading and whole periods. Like it or not, this is the book most non-specialists used to read. One point worth making is that he did take Byzantium very much into account.
Joshua Prawer, Histoire du Royaume Latin de Jérusalem, 2 vols.
Prawer dug much deeper into the social and political structure of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem than Runciman, and this work, along with what is in effect the third volume, The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, published in London, integrates the results of pioneering research into a wider picture (his key articles were collected in yet another volume, Crusading Institutions). Many points have now been challenged, often by Riley-Smith and his acolytes (Edbury etc.), but Prawer was the pioneer who asked the difficult questions in the first place and established the distinguished Israeli school of crusade historians (Jacoby, Kedar, Ellenblum, etc.).
Carl Erdmann, The Origins of the Idea of Crusading
This is the starting-point for any serious consideration of the nature of holy war at the end of the eleventh century, judicious and widely ranging, paying attention to Spain as well as the East. One may or may not agree with Erdmann’s argument, but the book represents German Quellenforschung at its best.
R.C. Smail, Crusading Warfare, Cambridge
Among all the monographs that illuminate the Latin east, this, again stands out because it opened up a new vision of the history and nature of the kingdom of Jerusalem at a time when few scholars were showing much interest in the area, and it was composed with great rigour and insight. It is much more, though, than a book for military historians, since Smail had a very good eye for the political and social setting.
Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Knights of St John in Jerusalem and Cyprus, London
This may not be his most challenging work, and it was only the first book among a great many, but Riley-Smith did much to transform the study of the Military Orders from potboilers about Templar crimes to an important sub-division of crusader research. Towards the end of his life it was re-issued in a revised edition. I select it rather than some of his books on the crusading movement because he sometimes became carried away with his ideas, and that is less evident here.
W.C. Jordan, Louis IX and the Challenge of the Crusade, Princeton
This offers a stimulating approach to the way that crusading could affect the structure of politics and society within the European kingdoms. It seems to me to be one of the first works to look at the crusading movement from that very interesting oblique angle.
Carol Hillenbrand, The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives
Nowadays the idea that one can study the crusades in isolation from the wider context of the Middle East would not be taken very seriously, all the more so as even the Middle Ages are going global. Although an earlier study by Emmanuel Sivan addressed some of the issues, Hillenbrand’s scholarship has taken the study of the crusades from an Islamic perspective to an entirely new level.
Norman Housley, The Later Crusades, Oxford
This is the largest of the many heavyweight tomes by the leading historian of the later crusades. It adopts a resolutely pluralist viewpoint, which some may think works much better for his period than the early crusades, but as a result it has the widest possible range and remains a vital and encyclopaedic place of reference.
Eliyahu Ashtor, Levant Trade in the Later Middle Ages
One should not ignore the economic dimension to the history of the crusades, and this work brings together the results of many years of research into western European and eastern Mediterranean (Jewish and Muslim) sources, with an emphasis on the end of the Middle Ages. Ashtor was an eccentric fellow and prone to small errors; he could be very dogmatic, but the question is what has been most important or influential, rather than best, which gives extra marks to pioneers.
Eric Christiansen, The Northern Crusades, London
This entertaining and wide-ranging overview of the northern theatre has no real rival, in my view: Christiansen was master of sufficient languages to be able to cope with the primary and secondary material, and looked carefully at the societies that were under attack as well as the attackers.
Michel Balard – Université Panthéon-Sorbonne (Paris 1)
I have found time enough to answer to your request. I read with much interest what was the choice of our Colleagues. It’s a pity that most of them do not know the works published in another language than English: French, Italian, German, Spanish historiography on the Crusades are generally not known. My choice is as follows (alphabetical order):
– P. ALPHANDERY – A. DUPRONT, “La chrétienté et l’idée de croisade, 2nd ed., Paris 1995: the analysis of the permanence of the crusading idea in the popular mentality is not yet superseded.
– E. CHRISTIANSEN, “The Northern Crusades”,London 2nd ed. 1997: a brilliant overview which uses sources and literature in various languages and is mindful of the impact of theses crusades on Northern societies.
-A. DEMURGER, “Les chevaliers du Christ”, Paris 2002: a complete analysis of the religious-military orders, which takes into account the most modern researches in a very legible edition.
– C. HILLENBRAND, “The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives”, Edinburgh 1999: according to Claude Cahen’s remark, one cannot study the crusades without a knowledge of the interactions between islam and christendom at the time of the crusades. A very valuable book.
– N. HOUSLEY, “The later Crusades”, Oxford 1992: a complete overview of the XIVth and XVth Centuries leagues and crusades, which remains a reference till to-day.
– J. MICHAUD, “Histoire des croisades”, 4 vol., Paris 1862: a basic work for the history of the crusades, considered as a glorious event of the French monarchy, but masterful for the details of the expeditions
– J. PRAWER, “Histoire du royaume latin de Jérusalem”, 2 vol., Paris 1970-1971: at the origin of the Israeli school of crusade historians, Prawer published this masterpiece after a pioneering research on all the aspects of crusading and their effect on the structures of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem.
– J. RICHARD, “Histoire des Croisades”, Paris 1995: the most recent synthesis in French about the expeditions and the structures of the Latin States in Syria-Palestine. The presentation stops with the eighth crusade.
– J. RILEY-SMITH, “The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading”, Philadelphia 1986: a major work of the leader of the Crusade historians in England, which demonstrates the high pious motivations of the crusaders.
– K.M SETTON, “A History of the Crusades”, 6 vol., Madison, Milwaukee and London 1969-1989: a masterly work, due to the cooperation of the most important Crusade historians of the time, which remains an indispensable reference;
– H.E. MAYER, ” Die Urkunden der lateinischen Könige von Jerusalem”: a masterpiece of erudition which constitutes the base of all researches on the Latin kingdom.
With my best wishes.
Michel BALARD, emeritus Professor of medieval History, University of Paris 1 – Sorbonne
Jessalynn Bird – St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame
Top ten crusading volumes in no particular order
Penny J. Cole. The Preaching of the Crusades to the Holy Land (1994). The seminal work on crusade preaching, which inspired much of my own research.
Cecilia Gaposchkin. Invisible Weapons: Liturgy and the Making of Crusade Ideology (Cornell, 2017). Updates Amnon Lindner’s classic volume on the liturgy of the crusades and represents new directions in crusade historiography.
Elizabeth Lapina and Nicholas Morton. The Uses of the Bible in Crusader Sources (Brill, 2017). Another example of dealing with a long-neglected topic. How was the Bible used to justify and contextualize crusading?
Christopher Tyerman. How to Plan a Crusade: Reason and Religious War in th eHIgh Middle Ages (2015). Christopher Tyerman has always delighted in puncturing the papal-centric view of crusading and this latest work summarizes many of his main arguments and also opens up new avenues for the investigation of the impact of the organization of the crusade on cultures in western Europe and elsewhere.
Jonathan Riley-Smith. The First Crusade and Idea of Crusading and/or What Were the Crusades? Riley-Smith’s work reinvigorated interest in crusading historiography in England and his mentorship inspired multiple generations of heavy-weight scholars in the field. The first book outlined his theories of the true motivations of the first crusaders (replacing older interpretations by Mayer, Runciman and Erdmann). The second outlined the papal-centric theory of crusading.
Norman Housley. Contesting the Crusades (2006). An invaluable summary of the various schools of thought on the origin and direction of crusading. Housley is a giant in the field. Although new directions have opened up in crusading historiography, this is still an extremely useful book.
Susan Edgington and Sarah Lambert, eds. Gendering the Crusades (2001). This work brought to everyone’s notice the need to examine how the participation of women in crusading and also how notions of masculinity intersected with crusading. I was there when the initial papers were presented and the room was on fire. It has inspired other important works such as Natasha Hodgson’s book on women in crusading narratives.
James M. Brundage. Medieval Canon Law and the Crusader (1969). A classic work by the godfather of canon law studies in the U.S. Interestingly enough, there has not been much new work done on the actual implementation of canon law in practice, but I am publishing several articles on this.
Jaroslav Folda. Crusader Art: The Art of the Crusaders in the Holy Land, 1099-1291. This book brought the study of crusader art into serious contention and has sparked a host of other studies on the material and artistic representations of crusading, including newer studies focusing on relics and manuscripts.
Megan Cassidy-Welch. Remembering the Crusades and Crusading (Palgrave, 2016). This book provides a window into cutting-edge work on the subject of memory and crusading, which is a bit of a hot topic at present.
I deliberately made this list a somewhat idiosyncratic blend of old and new, classic and cutting-edge. I tried to include works which might otherwise be omitted.
To these could be added a host of other fine works. It is hard to choose, particularly with the recent shift away from the classic focus on crusades to the Holy Land to crusades in multiple theatres, “later” crusades (Housley, etc), and the impact of the crusades on culture in West and East. This is leaving aside much fine work on the military orders by Helen M. Nicholson and others.
Then there are enormously influential stand-alone volumes on particular crusades or particular theatres of crusading (Thomas Madden and Donald Queller for the Fourth Crusade, Jonathan Phillips for the Second Crusade, James Powell for the Fifth Crusade, William C.Jordan for Louis IX).
There is also the question of sources in translation, such as the fine Ashgate series or the pioneering collections of translations by Edward Peters.
Also to be mentioned are enormously influential and useful encyclopedias such as Alan V. Murray’s multi-volume work, the Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades or the forthcoming multi-volume effort headed by Jonathan Phillips and Thomas Madden intended to replace the Kenneth Setton five volume classic set.
And the important translations of Arabic sources by Hillenbrand and Gabrielli.
Andrew D. Buck – Queen Mary, University of London
Trying to decide only 10 influential books is difficult, not only because it is hard to balance what you have personally been guided by with those texts which you know have made a real difference to the field. In the end, my list stretches the 10 quite considerably, but hopefully this will be considered acceptable. I’ve gone for a balance of primary and secondary works, and have tried as much as possible to discuss a varied number of research avenues – the crusades and the Latin East is a diverse field, and it is important to show the richness of the research which has been undertaken (and will hopefully continue to be undertaken).
- Recueil des historiens des croisades – what scholar of the crusades and the Latin East has not turned to these volumes in the pursuit of their research? Not only have these editions and translations (largely) stood the test of time, but they also opened up the Arabic, Greek, and Armenian sources up to scholars and thus promoted the importance of exploring the crusading past from more than one perspective.
- Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading – the study of the crusades as an academic field remains highly influenced by Riley-Smith’s painstaking and excellent work, especially in reminding us of the devotional motivations of crusade participants.
- Christopher Tyerman, The Invention of the Crusades – a work which reminds us all of the complexity of the past and how we must always be on alert when assuming order and organisation. Tyerman asked important and worthwhile questions and continues to provoke thought.
- Jonathan Phillips, Defenders of the Holy Land, Relations between the Latin East and the West, 1119–1187 – charting the political history of the Latin East is no easy task, and in this book Phillips deftly handles the complex narrative while also demonstrating the troubled relationship between the crusading movement and the needs of the Latin East.
- Hans Eberhard Mayer and Jean Richard, Die Urkunden der lateinischen Könige von Jerusalem – Mayer and Richard are giants in the field, having contributed meticulous and ground-breaking scholarship, and with this 4-volume edition of the charters of the kingdom of Jerusalem they have provided a service to all those who would wish to examine the Latin East in the future.
- Crusade Texts in Translation – a series rather than a book, I’ll admit, but the impact of these translations on the teaching of the crusades cannot be ignored, for it has allowed scholars to open up different perspectives to students and, hopefully, to inspire new generations of scholars.
- Nicholas Paul, To Follow in their Footsteps: The Crusades and Family Memory in the High Middle Ages – a really excellent, meticulously researched book, one that explores the key intersection between crusading and family memory. An engaging and thought-provoking book, this will serve to inspire fresh work for quite some time.
- Natasha Hodgson, Women, Crusading and the Holy Land in Historical Narrative – explores the treatment and role of women in the crusades and the Latin East, providing the first in-depth study of this field. This was much-needed when it appeared and will hopefully continue to inspire important work on gender and crusading.
- Ronnie Ellenblum, Crusader Castles and Modern Histories – a book which at once outlines how the role crusader castles has long intersected with modern nationalist ideologies and political movements, while also exploring the actual nature of the medieval frontier in the Latin East. Deserves to be on the shelf of anyone interested in the crusades, along with his earlier book on Frankish rural settlement.
- Ralph-Johannes Lilie, Byzanz und die Kreuzfahrerstaaten: Studien zur Politik des Byzantinischen Reiches gegenüber den Staaten der Kreuzfahrer in Syrien und Palästina bis zum Vierten Kreuzzug (1096-1204) – charts the important relationship between the crusades, the Latin East and the Byzantine Empire in thorough detail. Lots has been written since, but this continues to stand the test of time.
- Carole Hillenbrand, The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives – this remains the point of entry for all those wanting to explore the interaction between the crusades and Islam, providing critical insight and depth of knowledge while also remaining accessible. A work of huge value for scholars and students alike.
Megan Cassidy-Welch – Monash University
I’ve chosen mostly to concentrate on the books that influenced my thinking along the way, rather than include primary sources and editions.James Powell, Anatomy of a Crusade, 1213-1221My book on the Fifth Crusade is so indebted to Powell’s work that although I never met him, I will thank him most gratefully in the acknowledgments. Powell knew the Fifth Crusade like no other, and he was a model historian – deeply embedded in the primary texts but able to explain, comment and reflect on the wider contexts with wonderful clarity.Susannah Throop, Crusading as an Act of Vengeance, 1095-1216This book asks us to think very carefully and precisely about the terminology around crusade motivation, and to take seriously the sometimes uncomfortable ideologies justifying crusading. I read this book only recently but it is already influencing how I think about approaching a history of violence. It adds a lot to the recent ‘cultural turn’ in crusading histories.Nicholas Paul, To Follow in their Footsteps: The Crusades and Family Memory in the High Middle AgesThis was the first book on the specific subject of crusade and memory, and so is the pioneer in the field. Again, the depth of research and the ability to contextualise are stand-outs. But I also love Paul’s integration of modern theories of memory and his understanding of historical differences in memory-making across time.Bird, Jessalynn, Edward Peters, and James M. Powell, eds., Crusade and Christendom: Annotated Documents in Translation from Innocent III to the Fall of Acre, 1187-1291This is my exception to the list in that it’s a collection of sources. But it’s such a useful and careful piece of scholarship overall that it certainly needs to be included. The translations are terrifically helpful for students (and for me), but the best bit of this book, to my mind, is the introductory material at the start of each section and document. Students are fortunate to have the scholarship of three excellent scholars of the crusades informing and framing this book.Beverley Kienzle, Cistercians, Heresy and Crusade in Occitania, 1145-1229: Preaching in the Lord’s VineyardThis book traces the ideas and motifs emanating from and preached by the Cistercians before and during the Albigensian crusade. It provides a wonderful background to the crusade itself and also shows just how closely monastic and crusading rhetoric were connected.Jonathan Riley Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of CrusadingAs an undergraduate student, this was the first book on the First Crusade that I read. Its insistence on piety as a key motivation for crusading and the astonishing scholarship that lies behind this beautifully readable book made it one of the most influential crusade histories for me.Geraldine Heng,Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural FantasyThe separation of ‘literary’ and ‘historical’ approaches to crusades texts is now hopefully not so pronounced as it once was. Heng’s work is a brilliant example of how literature and cultural politics intersect and inform attitudes that have real consequences for real people. It continually reminds me of the importance of cultural and politics in writing a history of the crusades.Jaroslav Folda, Crusader Art: The Art of the Crusaders in the Holy Land, 1099-1291As a self-described cultural historian but not an art historian by training, I’ve found all Folda’s work tremendously helpful. I’ve chosen this one as it provides a terrific overall picture of the visual culture of the crusades at the same time as describing the detail. I’m also sneaking in Elisabeth Lapina, April Morris, Susannah Throop and Laura Whatley’s recent edited volume on the Crusades and Visual Culture here, the essays in which show the huge promise of this area for crusade historians.Paul Cobb, The Race for Paradise: an Islamic History of the CrusadesAnother brilliantly original history that manages to synthesise an incredible amount of research and scholarship and present it in an accessible and stimulating way. This book (together with Carole Hillenbrand’s The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives and Francesco Gabrieli’s Arab Historians of the Crusades) has been really useful for English-speaking students to glimpse the other worlds that shaped the Crusades.William Chester Jordan, Louis IX and the Challenge of CrusadeI still refer to this book when I want to understand something of the impact of the crusade idea and experience on an individual. Jordan’s work on the thirteenth century has been enormously influential overall, but this book on Louis IX is my favourite (and for students, too).
Paul E. Chevedden – The University of Texas at Austin
José Goñi Gaztambide, Historia de la bula de la cruzada en España (Vitoria: Editorial del Seminario, 1958). This monumental study of papal bulls of Crusade in Spain is arguable the most important work of Crusade scholarship of the twentieth century. The book clearly bears the flaws of its era by reading into the past a Castilian-centered vision of Spanish history, by playing down the role of non-Iberians in the peninsular Crusades, and by failing to connect Iberian Crusades to the wider Crusade movement, but it compensates for these deficiencies by the sheer wealth of documentation it places before the reader. It is similar to Carl Erdman’s Die Entstehung des Kreuzzugsgedankens (1935) in that it uses historical documents to revitalize and recast a very traditional view of the history of Iberia and the Crusades. The “folly” of each of these works in upholding a very traditional historical approach to the Crusades was treated very differently by historians. Goñi Gaztambide’s “folly” was exposed and critiqued, allowing the study of the Iberian Crusades to move away from its traditional moorings, while Erdmann’s “folly” provoked repeated attempts to make his work more harmonious with the traditional model of the Crusades. Goñi Gaztambide’s rich harvest of documents never inhibited new interpretive frameworks from emerging in which to view the data, while Erdmann’s study impeded new conceptual schemes from developing by which to evaluate the historical sources. Scholars may judge which of the two paths is the more reliable way forward.
Alfons Becker, Papst Urban II (1088-1099): Der Papst, die griechische Christenheit und der Kreuzzug, Schriften der Monumenta Germaniae Historica 19.2 (Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1988). This important study of Pope Urban II, part of a monumental three-volume history of this crusading pope, breaks free of the traditional dualistic view of the Crusades and pioneers a new way forward in Crusade studies, based on a careful analysis of historical documentation. Jonathan Riley-Smith’s criticism of the book as “fundamentally a sophisticated restatement of Erdmann’s position” is a flagrant misrepresentation of the author’s actual views and findings.
Robert I. Burns, The Crusader Kingdom of Valencia: Reconstruction on a Thirteenth-Century Frontier, 2 vols. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967). The revolutionary nature of this study is difficult to appreciate fifty years after its publication, but a half century ago the conquest of al-Andalus by Latin Christian powers was thought of mainly in terms the “Reconquest,” viewed as a largely secular expansion of Iberian states incessantly moving southward over the course of eight centuries, and not in terms of the Crusade movement. Goñi Gaztambide’s Historia de la bula de la cruzada en España did little to change this mindset. Burns’s study began a new direction in Crusade scholarship, as well as providing a comprehensive ecclesiastical, social, economic, and administrative history of the Crusader kingdom of Valencia.
Robert I. Burns, Islam under the Crusaders: Colonial Survival in the Thirteenth-century Kingdom of Valencia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973). This study of the subject Muslim communities of newly conquered Sharq al-Andalus began the author’s extensive and wide-ranging exploration of the Mudejar predicament, pursued in many books and articles. Like his earlier award-winning study, The Jesuits and the Indian Wars of the Northwest (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966), this book is a masterful reconstruction of a subjugated society whose own documentation is either non-existent or extremely sparse. Both Islam and Indian Wars are models of ethnohistory, and I recommend that they be read in tandem.
Robert I. Burns, Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Crusader Kingdom of Valencia: Societies in Symbiosis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984). Groundbreaking achivally-based studies await the reader in this volume, which depict the complex character of the pluriethnic society that was the Crusader Kingdom of Valencia. Burns approaches his subject “from novel angels and with varied methodologies.” One of the highlights of the book is an opening chapter that explores the methodological tensions embedded within the discussion of Muslim-Christian conflict and contact.
Joseph F. O’Callaghan, Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003). (See comments below)
Joseph F.O’Callaghan, The Gibraltar Crusade: Castile and the Battle for the Strait (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011). (See comments below)
Joseph F. O’Callaghan, The Last Crusade in the West: Castile and the Conquest of Granada (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014). The epic contest between Christians and Muslims for control of the Iberian Peninsula finds detailed and masterful elucidation in this trilogy of volumes from one of the most important historians of medieval Iberia. The Iberian Crusades are often seen as a sideshow to the main act of crusading in the eastern Mediterranean. These studies are not a cure for the underlying bias in Crusade studies, but they do help to right the balance.
Kenneth M. Setton, ed., A History of the Crusades, 2nd ed., 6 vols. (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969-89). Before there were so-called “pluralists” promoting a view of the Crusades resting on monist foundations and a spokesperson for this position claiming that “pluriformity . . . has won the day,” there was an American-led international publishing venture on the Crusades that culminated in a multi-volume and multi-authored work that attempted to take in the full sweep of the Crusades. While many of the contributions in the so-called “Wisconsin History” are now dated, others can be read with great profit (e.g., Charles Julian Bishko, “The Spanish and Portuguese Reconquest, 1095-1492”).
Peter Frankopan, The First Crusade: The Call from the East (London: Bodley Head, 2012). This is best study of the so-called “First” Crusade to date. The author breaks centuries of tradition by centering his attention on a “crisis in the [Byzantine] Empire,” rather than on Pope Urban II’s appeal at Clermont in 1095. This study dares to present the “First” Crusade as a product of the political realm, not the religious or devotional realm, and brings much-needed understanding to a call “to bring assistance against the heathen for the defense of the holy church, which had now been nearly annihilated in that region (i.e., western Anatolia) by the infidels, who had conquered her as far as the walls of Constantinople.”
Paul F. Crawford – California University of Pennsylvania
Here’s a rather hastily compiled list, mostly in answer to the internal question, “What do I keep turning to, over and over again?”
Riley-Smith, What Were the Crusades? A brilliantly concise explanation of crusade historiography, as well as a clear and pretty inarguable definition of what a crusade really was, and was about.
Riley-Smith, “Crusading as an Act of Love”– I’m cheating: this is an article, published in History in 1980; it destroys the arguments that crusading was about greed, or wanderlust, or opportunity, or millennialism, or landless younger sons, or racism, or any of the other silly theories floating around.
Riley-Smith, The First Crusaders, 1095-1131– Demonstrates, through careful analysis of charters and other non-narrative sources, that crusading was largely conducted by the heads of great noble families in France, who considered that crusading was part of their lordly responsibilities, and who went—and died—again and again on crusade.
Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood– A careful, scholarly exploration of a military order (the Templars) who have been so lied about from the 14th c. on—the “go-to” resource for questions about the Templars.
Sir Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades– Beautiful prose from a master storyteller, shoddily researched and conveyed a profoundly flawed view of the crusades that has, sadly, shaped the understandings of tens of millions of people, if not more.
Joseph Michaud, History of the Crusades– One of the first great narrative histories of the crusades, conveying a romantic view that has its own flaws, and which may inadvertently have laid the groundwork for misunderstandings of the crusades as imperial or colonial adventures.
Kenneth Setton, ed., A History of the Crusades– A masterly late-twentieth century overview of the crusades, much of which is dated, but some of which has not yet been replaced, and all of which is still useful. Sir Steven referred to this endeavor as “the massed typewriters of the United States”….
Queller & Madden, The Fourth Crusades, 2nd ed.– A seminal work which dispels many of the myths which persist about this crusade.
Francesco Gabrieli, Arab Historians of the Crusades– The best popular anthology of Arabic-language crusade sources available in English, still, despite being translated from Arabic into Italian into English, with all the pitfalls that entails. Made Muslim views of the crusades available to a much wider readership, including crusade historians who can’t read Arabic.
Eric Christiansen, The Northern Crusades- Still the go-to book if one is starting to study the crusades in the Baltic and northeastern Europe; well-written and sensitive in its approach to the sources, despite being a semi-popular work.
Jaroslav Folda – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
15 August 2017
I have interpreted your request for my list of the 10 most important books on the Crusades to mean, 10 works that were of the greatest importance to me in working towards my publications on the Art of the Crusaders in the Holy Land 1098-1187, in 1995, and thereafter. These are works that I have on the shelves of my study, whose authors in some cases I have gotten to know over the years.
William of Tyre, Chronicon (Latin) [Willelmi Tyrensis Archiepiscopi, Chronicon, ed. R.B.C. Huygens, Turnholt: Typographi Brepols Editores Pontificii, 1986) 2 vols.], History of Outremer (Old French) [Guillaume de Tyr et ses continuateurs, ed. Paulin Paris (Paris: Librairie de Firmin-Didot, 1879) 2 vols.], History of Deeds done beyond the Sea (English translation) [William, Archbishop of Tyre, A History of Deeds done beyond the Sea, eds. Emily Atwater Babcock and A.C. Krey (New York: Columbia University Press, 1941; reprint, Octagon Books, 1976), 2. Vols.] William is the great historian of the Crusader States in the 12th century; he seeks to understand how and why things happened. Even if he is not always reliable with his dating, and there are some conspicuous omissions in his text, he is a serious and careful scholarly thinker who was well educated and well-connected in the church and at court.
Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, 3 vols.(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952-1954). As the first serious history of the Crusades that I read, I have found his story the best written and the most interesting as I read other histories. As I became more acquainted with him as a Byzantinist and his views on the Crusades, however, I have found other historians of the Crusades whose interpretations were more reliable and sometimes more positive, but his presentations have often remained the best stories in the way that he wrote about them.
Kenneth Setton, general editor, and Harry W. Hazard, (editor of volumes 3 and 4, and joint editor of volumes 2 and 5), A History of the Crusades, 6 vols. (Madison and London: Universityof Wisconsin Press, 1969-1989). I knew Kenneth Setton only very slightly, but I got to know Harry Hazard when I was an undergraduate studying medieval history; he helped me with my senior thesis. He was a brilliant historian with wonderful command of Near Eastern languages, and he introduced me to these impressive volumes on the Crusades while he worked on editing and indexing the various volumes. I have found them to be amazingly encyclopedic with so many authors introducing the reader to so many fields and points of view beyond the basic Eurocentric history of the Crusading expeditions.
Jonathan Riley-Smith has written a number of important books I might cite, the problem is which one to choose. I am indebted to Jonathan for his enormous generosity in being willing to read and comment on both of my volumes (1995 and 2005) on the Art of the Crusaders before they were submitted for publication. I cannot choose his most recent book, because it is not published yet. So I choose either What Were the Crusades? 3rd edition (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2002), or his Atlas of the Crusades (London: Times Books, 1990). These are perhaps small, but important examples of the range and sharpness of his mind, and his clarity and effectiveness of presentation.
Even though I only knew Joshua Prawer very slightly, I read his important 2 volume Histoire du Royaume Latin de Jérusalem (Paris, 1969-71) in French (not in Hebrew) with its sense of the immediacy of the holy land he lived in for the history he was writing. But it is the work of one of his students, Meron Benvenisti, The Crusaders in the Holy Land (Jerusalem: Israel Universities Press, 1970), that I found especially valuable when I lived in Jerusalem in the 1970s. In this book he links Crusader sites and history to the land of Israel, a methodology that Joshua Prawer had pioneered in his history seminar at the Hebrew University and that Benjamin Kedar continues to explore in his many publications.
Hugo Buchthal, Miniature Painting in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1957). This book (along with several articles by Kurt Weitzmann on icon painting) was the starting point for the study of the art of the Crusaders, in the second half of the 20th century. Focusing on manuscript illumination, which he introduced to the Crusader canon, Buchthal’s scholarship was marked by a brilliant combination of penetrating visual analysis, encyclopedic knowledge of Byzantine and Near Eastern art, as well as western European medieval art, and remarkable interpretations integrating the works of art which he recognized as “Crusader” with the historical developments in which they were created.
Denys Pringle, The Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, A Corpus, 4 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993 – 2009). I first met Denys Pringle when he was at the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem during the 1970s, when he started this remarkable study of the Crusader churches in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. His impressive study is exceptional for its detailed analysis and discussions, its exhaustive documentation, its command of the history and original sources, and its drawings and photos.
Camille Enlart, Les Monuments des Croisés dans le Royaume de Jérusalem, Architecture religieuse et civile, 2 vols. with 2 atlases (Paris: Paul Geuthner, 1925-1928). Enlart was the great proponent of the art of “Outremer” as being as French as any of the Romanesque schools of France, but distinct from them with its own individual character. He greatly expanded the corpus of what was recognized as Crusader work at the time; he introduced a number of very important monuments especially in Syria and Lebanon along with large studies of churches farther south in the Latin Kingdom; and he enlarged the idea of Crusader art to include sculpture and metalwork, as well as monumental painting.
Bernard Hamilton, The Churches of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (London: Variorum Publications, 1980). This book was a constant, invaluable and reliable resource for understanding the ecclesiastical organization, ecclesiastical and clerical developments and special problems characteristic of the Latin clergy and their churches in the Crusader States during the 12th and 13th
John Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrimage, 1099-1185 (London: The Hakluyt Society, 1988). I first met John Wilkinson at the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem. His excellent volume for the Hakluyt Society was an invaluable modern study of the important pilgrims and their accounts with translations, for which we had previously to rely on the antiquated translations of the Palestine Pilgrims Text Society. John Wilkinson’s studies and translations of these texts became available when new editions of some of the original Latin texts were also coming out, e.g., Theodoricus, Libellus de Locis Sanctis, ed. Marie Luise Bulst Thiele (Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitäts Verlag, 1977), and Peregrinationis Tres: Saewulf, John of Würzburg, Theodoricus, ed. R.B.C. Huygens, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis CXXXIX (Turnholt: Typographi Brepols Editores Pontificii, 1994).
John France – Swansea University.
M.Barber, The New Knighthood. A History of the Order of the Temple (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). The monastic Military Orders were the most innovative institution in the Latin States. This is a very fine discussion of the origins and history of the Temple which firmly avoids the fantasies which have become attached to them.
O. Blake, ‘The Formation of the “Crusade Idea”’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 21 (1970),11‑31. This is the key piece of writing on the idea of the crusade. The basic ideas suggested in this article have been used and extended by many other writers, but this deserves the description of seminal.
W. Edbury, John of Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1997). It is impossible to understand the nature of the 13th century Kingdom of Jerusalem without reading this work.
R.Ellenblum, Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). The publication of this book marked a sea-change in the way we look at the Latin States of the East. Ellenblum shows them to be less alien than was so often thought, and more deeply rooted in the local society and economy.
C.Erdmann, The Origin of the Idea of Crusade tr. M.W.Baldwin and W.Goffart of a 1935 German original (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1977). Since 1935 the body of evidence we have about the development of Christian thinking on warfare has increased and it has been analyzed more and more thoroughly. But without a reading of this book there can be no understanding of the modern debate about the crusades.
B. Hamilton, The Latin Church in the Crusader states: the Secular Church (Aldershot: Variorum, 1980). This remains the fullest study of the Latin Church in the East and as such is essential reading.
C.Hillenbrand, The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press,1999). An exceptional book which can serve as a collection of sources on the Islamic reaction to the western incursion.
J.M.Powell, Anatomy of a Crusade 1213-1221 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1986). This is the very model of how to write an account of a single crusade. The Fifth Crusade was a remarkably long and complex event, but Powell works through the sources in a highly systematic way to provide a clear and well-structured account.
J.Riley-Smith, The Crusades. A History (London: Bloomsbury, 3rd edition, 2104). This is very simply the best outline introduction to the crusades because of its structure and exceptionally clear writing. J.Riley-Smith has contributed an enormous store of ideas aboiut crusading to which this short work serves as an introduction.
R.C. Smail, Crusading Warfare 1097-1193 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956, 2nd edition 1995). Some of the assumptions underlying this book are dated, notably the identification of crusading with colonialism. However, it remains absolutely the foundation-work on the subject and still vitally useful.
Daniel Franke – Richard Bland College
My Top Ten Books on the Crusades
Daniel Franke, Richard Bland College of William and Mary
- John France, Victory in the East: A Military History of the First Crusade (1994). This is probably one of the finest medieval military histories ever written, perhaps the finest, and a tour-de-force in crusades studies. France’s overall scholarship is superb, his research, including physically following the routes of the various armies, is impeccable, and his grasp and presentation of the realities of medieval warfare is unrivaled.
- Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusaders, 1095-1131 (1997). This is actually my favorite book among all of Riley-Smith’s works, because it’s a deep dive into the sources with the (successful) goal of recovering the lives and thoughts of actual people. We move beyond the often arcane world of “crusade ideology” to the actual people who lived and died at the turn of the twelfth century.
- Carole Hillenbrand, The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives (1999). The “other side” of the crusades has (finally) received increasingly detailed treatment in the last twenty years, but nothing is likely to replace Hillenbrand’s exhaustive compendium of the Islamic world’s engagement with “the Franj.” The most recent overview of the entire topic is Paul Cobb’s outstanding, eminently readable The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades (2014).
- Helen Nicholson, ed. Palgrave Advances The Crusades (2005). This is a book to which I keep returning for everything from crusade ideology to Deborah Gerish’s stellar chapter on gender and the crusades, to Margaret Jubb’s chapter on crusader perceptions of their opponents. Ten years later, it is still the perfect one-volume way of situating yourself in the field.
- Norman Housley, Fighting for the Cross: Crusading to the Holy Land (2008). I’m a huge admirer of Norman Housley’s work (which is I have three books by him on this list!), and Fighting for the Cross is another book I refer to a lot for its content and its footnotes. It covers crusading actually looked and felt like, from the sermon to the return home.
- Norman Housley, The Later Crusades: from Lyons to Alcazar (1992). Several of Housley’s studies are unique—that is, there are literally no other books to compare them to. This is one of them, and the earliest of three (the other two are later developments from themes in this book, “honorable mentions” in the bottom of this write-up).
- Norman Housley, Contesting the Crusades (2006). This is basically the bible for understanding crusade historiography. Christopher Tyerman has since published some studies that serve to update Housley’s book, and some trends of the last decade are missing (such as Rubenstein’s Armies of Heaven) but nothing can really replace Housley’s categorization of which scholars believed what about the crusades.
- Suzanne Yeager, Jerusalem in Medieval Narrative (2008). This is one of those books that has not only been very useful to me in my own research, but continues to be useful as time goes by because of its endless insights into the complex phenomenon crusade literature, in this case late medieval English writings. Lee Manion’s Narrating the Crusades (2014) is a more recent “take” that bridges the medieval and early modern divide, but Yeager’s book, by focusing on Jerusalem, has a particularly enduring relevance.
- Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading (1991). Another Riley-Smith volume, this one has, of course, the legendary status of being the first major overhaul the ideology of crusading since Goffart’s translation of Erdmann in 1977. Riley-Smith, however, was interested in the phenomenon of religious justification of violence as a sociological phenomenon, which lends this work a particularly enduring relevance, despite the advances of the past 26 years.
- Joshua Prawer, The Crusaders’ Kingdom: European Colonialism in the Middle Ages (1972). Although this work is seriously outdated now, even by the late Professor Prawer’s other works, as well as by studies by Denys Pringle, Ronnie Ellenblum, and Adrian Boas, among others, it is simply a gem of a book for helping people understand the physical landscape of the Latin Kingdom. The chapter on the geography of crusader Jerusalem alone is worth the price.
Choosing only ten books is very hard. Two “alternates” that I’d also like to mention would have skewed the results even more toward Norman Housley—his Crusading and the Ottoman Threat, 1453-1505 (2012) and Religious Warfare in Europe, 1400-1536 (2009). These are both expensive and difficult to obtain, but they focus on two issues that I believe are absolutely key to understanding both crusading and the shift from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern Era: the European response to the Ottoman Turkish invasions, and the cultural transition from “crusade” to “religious war.” Another “alternate,” and a favorite, is Susan Edginton and Sarah Lambert’s Gendering the Crusades (2002), which was the first book of its kind and the inspiration for a lot of great scholarship. And one last book to mention, which I’ve dipped into constantly for teaching purposes, is Riley-Smith’s The Atlas of the Crusades.
Peter Frankopan – Oxford University
Sorry to keep you waiting. Here are my top 10.
Stephen Runciman The Crusades- I read Runciman’s work as an undergraduate at Cambridge and got to know him towards the end of his life. He opened the door to the Byzantine Empire for me, as for many others. I still get this off the shelf from time time to time; his passion is palpable. I love historians who love their subject – even if I don’t agree with them.
Jonathan Riley Smith, The First Crusade and Idea of Crusading- The doyen of Crusade historians, Riley-Smith was an astonishing scholar, a brilliant writer and perhaps most important of all, a teacher of an entire generation of outstanding Crusade historians. This is my favourite of his books and represents history writing at its most compelling: detailed, revelatory and revolutionary.
Christopher Tyerman God’s War– Monumental. Essential. Glorious. There are many outstanding books on the Crusades as a whole. But for me, this one is the best. It is a stupendous feat of scholarship by a colleague and friend at Oxford who is as generous and modest as is he brilliant. I’m not sure this work will ever be surpassed.
Ralph-Johannes Lilie, Byzanz und die Kreuzfahrerstaaten: Studien zur Politik des Byzantinischen Reiches gegenüber den Staaten der Kreuzfahrer in Syrien und Palästina bis zum Vierten Kreuzzug (1096-1204)- A ground-breaking work that looks at relations between the Byzantine Empire and the Crusader states – a topic barely mentioned, let alone covered by legions of Crusade historians despite its obvious importance. Lilie is meticulous and this book is filled with insights from the outset.
Paul Cobb, The Race for Paradise– Paul is a polymath and good friend. He has done Crusade scholars an immense service by expanding the field of vision beyond Christian knights, their aims, objectives and struggles, to look from the perspective of the Islamic world. How anyone can write about the Crusades without doing so is beyond me (you can say the same thing about Byzantium by the way); but most historians and scholars don’t. This book can help change that.
Christopher MacEvitt, The Crusades and the Christian World of the East Rough Tolerance- Armenia, the Caucasus and the ‘missing east’ forms another hugely important part of the story of the Crusades that is neglected. MacEvitt is one of the new generation of scholars asking interesting (and I daresay better) questions about the full impact of the Crusades. In doing so, he is helping move discussions away from the monasteries of France, and closer to the action. Terrific stuff.
Malcolm Barber, The Crusader States– Many historians look at the Crusades from the point of view of the expeditions themselves and their achievements (and shortcomings). Barber looks at the Crusader states themselves, at relations with the Muslim world and those with continental Europe. It is a wonderful book, and one that makes you laugh out loud: the author has a great eye for detail and for finding amusing anecdotes in the sources.
Jay Rubenstein, Armies of Heaven. The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse-Jay is a brilliant historian and also a friend of mine. I love the work he does on the Latin sources, which seem to melt in his hands. This book is terrific. It looks at how important the fear and expectation of apocalypse was in late 11th century Europe. Like all good books, it all seems so obvious once you’ve read about it.
Jonathan Philips, The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople- Phillips is one of the leading lights amongst modern Crusade historians. His work is always sharp, smart and engaging. The account of the Fourth Crusade and the build up to 1204 is wonderfully written and compelling. Phillips is able to gather loose strands and tie them into a coherent, single narrative. That is not easy, but he does it beautifully.
Anna Komnene, The Alexiad– A shout-out to Anna Komnene for three reasons. First, because I am very aware my other books are written by men; second, because her account of the First Crusade (written at the time of the Second) is both immensely important and also chronically misunderstood. And third, because I really owe Anna my academic career: this text formed the basis of my PhD and post-doctoral work. It taught me how to ask the right questions and how to find good answers. Anna was a far better scholar than me and her text is a delight from start to finish. Understanding how to read a complex 12th century medieval Greek narrative history (the first written by a woman in a European language) taught me how to do the same for sources range from Han dynasty China to going through national archives in the 20th century.
Cecilia Gaposchkin – Dartmouth College
“What ten books do you think are the most important books ever written on the crusades?”
When Professor Holt asked me this question, my mind went in two different directions. The first, and easiest, was the ten books that have been most important to my thinking and my work, which is mostly centered on Western Europe, and mostly concerned with religion and devotional ideology. The second direction was the books that have truly shaped the field, that have shaped the entire discourse and to which my own work is heir, but of which my reading did not necessarily shape my thinking and my own research directly, since their import had long been absorbed into the larger scholarship. So I have elected to make two different lists: The first is the ten books which seem to me to have shaped the field. The second is the 10 books which have most influenced me. There is, of course, some overlap. But in a sense, my own list begins, chronologically, where my master list end.
It should be said that both lists reflect a definition of “crusade” centered on Jerusalem. As any student of the crusades will know, this is itself a highly contested question. Some historians (sometimes termed “traditionalists”) see the crusades as limited to the Jerusalem, or eastern, crusades. Others have a far more expansive view of the Crusades (usually called the “pluralist” school). This (the pluralist school) seems to me to warrant a third list, which is the ten most important books on the pluralistly-defined crusades, which would include the standard treatments of the Albigensian Crusade, the Northern Crusades, the Reconquista (etc…). And finally, if one is going to try to be complete about this, one should add the ten most important books on the Latin East (Politics, Environment, Military, etc.). For now, I leave these last two lists to others…
“The ten (actually, eleven) books on Crusade that have most shaped the field.”
William of Tyre. A history of deeds done beyond the sea. Emily Atwater Babcock, A. C. Krey, ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1943. (Originally written in the late twelfth century). William of Tyre was a local ecclesiastical potentate (the archbishop of Tyre) who wrote a history of the Crusades and the Latin East while living in Jerusalem at the end of the twelfth century. He was a serious scholar, who did research in the local libraries and archives to write his history. My friend and colleague Christopher MacEvitt (see his book below) once remarked to me that historians are still rehashing the same basic narrative. Indeed, we could just as well assign William of Tyre to our students than any of the slate of recent textbooks. It is a marvelous account of the central events that structure our narrative of the first century of the Crusades. And Christopher is correct: When it comes to telling the story of the first century of crusade history, we have in many ways progressed not that far at all from William of Tyre. I might proffer that it is the single most influential book on the crusades of all time.
Joinville, Jean of, and Geoffrey of Villehardouin. Chronicles of the Crusades. Translated by Caroline Smith. London: Penguin, 2008. My other contemporary pick. Joinville was a French nobleman who participated in the crusade of 1248-1254 and wrote his account of it. It is still our best evidence for the experience of actually going on a crusade.
Fuller, Thomas. The historie of the holy warre. Cambridge Eng: Printed by Roger Daniel, and are to be sold by John Williams, 1647 (for third edition). The first English-language account of the Crusades (not yet called the crusades); written by a Protestant, and very critical. I have never read anything but snippets of it, but anyone interested should look at the extraordinary frontispiece which bespeaks its interpretation, which can be found on Wiki commons.
Michaud, Joseph Francois. Histoire des croisades. Nouv. éd. faite d’après les derniers travaux et les dernières intentions de l’auteur et augm. d’un appendice, par M. Huillard Bréholles ed. Paris: Furne, Jouvet et cie, 1867. The masterful, if egregiously patriotic, three-volume French account of the Crusades, which he saw as a glorious chapter in the glorious history of France. It should not be lost on anyone that this was about the same time that the French were busy conquering Algeria (1830-1847), a venture often discussed in the language of crusading. Michaud was an amazing, if partisan, historian, and is still worth consulting.
Erdmann, Carl. The Origin of the Idea of Crusade. Translated by Marshall W. Baldwin and Walter Goffart. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977. Originally published as Erdmann, Carl. Die Entstehung des Kreuzzugsgedankens, Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Geistesgeschicte 6. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1935. Erdmann’s book, more than any other, established the terms of the debate on the twentieth-century study of the crusades. Although he made a series of arguments that most historians no longer accept (including most famously that the First Crusade did not set out with the explicit aim of conquering Jerusalem), Erdmann wrote brilliantly on the constituent religious and political practices and ideology that went into constructing “the idea of crusade.”
Runciman, Steven. A History of the Crusades. 3 vols. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1951-1954. Sir Steven’s three volume narrative of the crusades was definitive for several decades. A Byzantinist by training and affection, he saw the crusaders as a series of unreconstructed thugs, and the crusades – as the very last line of the final book famously proclaimed – a “sin against the holy spirit.” His gorgeous style, entertaining narrative, and obvious mastery of details in service of a larger story, made this influential in both academic and “lay” circles.
Alphandéry, Paul, and Alphonse Dupront. La Chrétienté et l’idée de croisade, Bibliothèque de l’évolution de l’humanité 10. Paris: Albin Michel, 1995 (orig. 1954). Published around the same time as Runcimann, Alphandery and Dupront took up the question of the “idea” of crusade again. And unlike Runciman, they took religious ideas seriously, including its eschatological dimensions. This interest in the role that belief in EndTimes played in the crusades has reemerged in some of the best recent writing on the Crusades, including Jay Rubenstein’s Armies of Heaven, Guy Lobrichon’s 1099: Jéruslem conquise (1998) , and Philippe Buc’s Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror (2015; see below).
Setton, Kenneth M. The Papacy and the Levant, 1204-1571. 4 vols. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1976. Although updated and broadened by the many books of Norman Housley (and others), Setton’s four volume study of the crusades’ institutional history is unmatched. It is, oddly, not nearly as well-known or well used as it deserves. (Important, but not an easy read).
Prawer, Joshua. The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem: European colonialism in the Middle Ages. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973. This is the most expansive study of the history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The political and institutional narratives remain second to none, even if his claim of proto-colonialism has been much debated and mostly rejected. (See most notably, Christopher MacEvitt’s The Crusades and the Christian Worlds of the East: Rough Tolerance (2008), and Malcom Barber’s The Crusader States (2012).) Prawer still provides the essential and most expansive framework for any engagement in the history of the Latin East.
Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986. Riley-Smith, who died just this past year, was without a doubt the most important crusade historian of the second half of the twentieth and the first two decades of the twenty first century. The very title of this book indicates his engagement with Erdmann’s premise from 1935: What exactly was this new thing that warriors and churchmen invented between 1095 and 1099 that we have come to call the crusades? He extended that question to the history, progress, and immediate interpretation of the First crusade. I think it is a totally brilliant book. For me, the current phase of crusade historiography begins with this book. That said, one of his last books, (The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), in which he grapples with the role the crusades played in the long relationship between Christianity and Islam up to the modern period, is perhaps more timely; and an easy read.
Hillenbrand, Carole. The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2000. After nine centuries of analysis of the Crusades from the Western perspective, Hillenbrand was the first to offer a sustained academic study of the idea and experience of the crusades from the other side. In so doing, she offered a massive and urgently needed corrective, and in turn founded a new strand of history, the most recent and important example of which is the Paul Cobb’s magnificent The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades (Oxford 2014).
“The ten books on Crusade that have most shaped my thinking”
Erdmann, Carl. The Origin of the Idea of Crusade. Translated by Marshall W. Baldwin and Walter Goffart. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977. Originally published as Erdmann, Carl. Die Entstehung des Kreuzzugsgedankens, Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Geistesgeschicte 6. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1935. Also on my “all time top ten list,” Erdmann’s is the earliest book on my personal list. Included in his project was an examination of the religious ideas and symbols that came together to make the crusades possible. This is the central question that interests me, and I have often returned to Erdmann. Most of the books on the rest of this list engage in one way or another aspects of this question.
Siberry, Elizabeth. Criticism of Crusading: 1095-1274. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. I debated whether this one should be on the list, but it is the book that made me understand how Europeans reconciled their repeated failures with their absolute conviction that they were doing God’s work.
Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986. This book returned to Erdmann’s question (what was the “idea” of the crusade?), but, by explicitly examining the religious idea that animated the First Crusade, it took the crusaders seriously, at their word. It must have been one of the earliest books on the crusades that I read during my training, and I suspect it stands as the central pillar to my understanding of the crusades. I still think it is an extraordinary book.
Bull, Marcus. Knightly Piety and the Lay Response to the First Crusade: The Limousin and Gascony, c. 970-c. 1130. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. Bull was one of Riley Smith’s early students. It was Riley-Smith who decided to take the religious ideas and motivations of the crusaders seriously. Bull explained the religious ideas of the knightly class who took up the cross for the First Crusade, providing one of the missing pieces in our picture of how the First Crusade, and thus the phenomenon as a whole, took shape. (I say it was the “missing piece” because most of our sources for this period are clerical, and thus arguments built on those sources are always subject to the challenge that we’re perceiving just an ecclesiastical, or “ivory tower,” discourse or construct.)
Kedar, Benjamin Z. Crusade and Mission: European Approaches towards the Muslims. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984. This was the first book I read that explicitly considered the issue of how the crusades helped shape the complex relationship between Christianity and Islam, and also the important role the crusades played in the creation of Christian identity in the West. This question has only become more and more important in the years since 9/11/2001.
Housley, Norman. The Later Crusades, 1274-1580: From Lyons to Alcazar. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. Housley has dedicated his career to showing how the crusade venture lasted long beyond 1291, when the Latin East established around the First crusade was annihilated. He has written widely on this. This was the first of his books I read, and it opened up crusading history as a history that needed to be taken up well past the Reformation.
Tyerman, Christopher. The Invention of the Crusades. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan Press, 1998. This is a book that got a lot of attention when it was first published. Tyerman argued that there really wasn’t anything we should call the Crusades until the end of the twelfth century (at the time of the Third Crusade). In the end, the central argument wasn’t really accepted, but the argument and the evidence used was so provocative and interesting that I often find myself in a mental discussion with its premise, and it has been important for my construction of my own narrative.
Schein, Sylvia. Gateway to the Heavenly City: Crusader Jerusalem and the Catholic West (1099-1187). Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005. This book is not so much about the Crusades, as about the idea of the holy city Jerusalem during the first century of the Crusade (from 1099 to 1187). Again, as it deals with the weighted meaning of Jerusalem at the core of the crusade venture, it reveals the importance of studying ideas to make sense of the actions of individuals and societies.
Bird, Jessalyn, Edward Peters, and James M. Powell, eds. Crusade and Christendom: Annotated Documents in Translation from Innocent III to the Fall of Acre, 1187-1291. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. Although this book is ostensibly a “source book,” it is currently the best thing written on the crusades of the thirteenth century. The editorial commentary is guided by a comprehensive and consistent interpretation of crusading in the thirteenth century. It should really be considered and counted as a monograph, and I think one of the most important contributions of recent years.
Buc, Philippe. Holy War, Martyrdom, and Terror: Christianity, Violence, and the West Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. This book isn’t actually about the crusades. It uses the First Crusade as one of many examples to explicate a grammar of Christian thought, which Buc argues is keyed to eschatology (End Times) and in turn governs ideological, political, and religious history and ideas over two thousand years. But Buc’s grammar in turn helps explain the First Crusade and then the later crusades.
Bernard Hamilton – University of Nottingham
My apologies for the delay. The ten books which I consider important are the following. I have restricted my choice to works written in my own field of research: that is the eastern Mediterranean in the period c. 1050-1300. I am conscious that many excellent books have been omitted, but that is inevitable in an exercise of this kind. I leave it to your discretion whether my llst meets the criteria you had in mind. If it does, would you please mount it for me on your site.
1. Robert Huygens edition of William of Tyre, Chronicon, CCCM 63, 63A (Turnholt, 1986). This is the definitive edition of the most important source for the history of the Latin East in the twelfth century. Robert Huygens is a philologist, and the Latin of this text is the nearest that can be produced to William’s autograph. I very much admire the purity of Robert’s scholarship.
2 Hans Eberhard Mayer’s Die Urkunden der lateinischen Konige von Jerusalem, 4 vols., MGH (Hanover 2010), is an indispensable work for the study of the Crusader Kingdom, and is the fruit of a lifetime’s study of the sources. It is particularly important for discussing the sources which are only known indirectly through references in other documents. Hans Mayer’s careful discussion of the dating of documents also makes this also an essential text for determining the chronology of the Latin Kingdom.
3 Denys Pringle, The Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, 4 vols (Cambridge, 2003-2009), is a master work. I have found it invaluable in my own work, and in all ways I cannot praise it too highly.
4 Jonathan Riley-Smith, although it is difficult o single out one of his many important works, my choice is The First Crusaders 1095-1131 (CUP, 1993), which demonstrated that in tracing family connections among crusaders, no distinction should be made between maternal and paternal kin. This has proved to be a very fruitful approach.
5 Malcolm Barber, The Crusader States (Yale UP, 2012). This is the most comprehensive and reflective modern history of the Crusader States, which is the product of a lifetime’s consideration of the sources and their interpretation.
6 Jonathan Phillips, The Second Crusade: extending the frontiers of Christendom (Yale UP, 2007) is a masterly examination of the way in which the concept of crusading had developed in the Latin world between the First Crusade and the campaigns which make up the Second Crusade.
7 Keagan Brewer, Prester John, the Legend and its Sources (Ashgate, Crusade Texts in Translation, 2015). The belief that there was a powerful Christian ruler in Asia beyond the Islamic lands who would come to the aid of the crusaders in the East against the growing power of Islam was influential in Latin Christendom in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Keagan Brwer has translated and commented on the principal sources for this legend, and discussed their political implications. The competition is huge, but in my view this is the best and most comprehensive book ever written on Prester John.
8 Peter Jackson, The Mongols and the West, 1221-1410 (Parson, 2005). The Mongol Empire dominated central and eastern Europe, the Middle East and much of Asia throughout the thirteenth century, and the Crusader States and the Crusading movement cannot be studied in isolation from it. Peter Jackson’s detailed and learned account is an indispensable work for understanding thirteenth-century crusading history.
I conclude my list with an old book which remains important, and a new book which I consider significant.
9. Melchior de Vogue, Les Eglises de la Terre Sainte (Paris, 1860), was the first comprehensive account of the shrine churches of the Holy Land which the Ottoman authorities allowed to be made. It remains an important source for the study of crusader churches, because many of them have been damaged, or, as at Nazareth, improved, since it was published.
10. Andrew D. Buck, The Principality of Antioch and its Frontiers in the Twelfth Century (Boydell Press, 2017). This is the first comprehensive study of the Principality in the years after 1130 since Cl. Cahen”s La Syrie du nord a l’epoque des croisades (Damascus, 1940), and is much needed. In my view this is an excellent book which makes full use of the very fragmentary sources and of the archaeological evidence and advances a radically new explanation about the relations between the prince and the nobility, which I find convincing.
Andrew Holt – Florida State College at Jacksonville
After setting all of this up, some asked that I add my own list, so here it is. The top ten “most important” books on the crusades (in no particular order)
Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The First Crusaders, 1095–1131. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
This work has been described by Princeton University’s William Chester Jordan as having “laid to rest for all time” the notion that the crusaders profited from the crusades. Indeed, reading this book as an undergraduate dispelled many popular myths for me and did much to inspire my desire to further study the crusades.
Frankopan, Peter. The First Crusade: The Call from the East. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2012.
I think this is one of the most important recent books to come out as it refocuses attention on the essential role the Byzantine Empire played in helping bring about the calling of the First Crusade. Frankopan examines events from the perspective of Alexios in Constantinople who, with much of his empire recently conquered by the Turks, saw western military aid as a necessity.
Tyerman, Christopher. God’s War: A New History of the Crusades. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2006.
At over a thousand pages, and written by perhaps the leading living scholar of the crusades, this work represents the most comprehensive and authoritative single-volume history of the crusading movement ever written.
France, John. Victory in the East: A Military History of the First Crusade. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
John France, a leading British scholar of the crusades, here provides perhaps the best available work on the military history of the crusades. The military historians I know think this is perhaps the most important book on the crusades, military history or otherwise, and will fight you over it.
Queller, Donald E., and Thomas F. Madden. The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople. 2d ed. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.
Queller and Madden do a masterful job detailing the odd and unforeseen sequence of events that culminated in the crusaders’ attack on fellow Christians at Zara and (especially) Constantinople. This work also includes a very useful essay by Alfred J. Andrea on the narrative sources for the Fourth Crusade.
Andrea, Alfred J. Encyclopedia of the Crusades. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2003.
Although now slightly dated, this work is a single-volume encyclopedia of the crusades authored by a leading American historian that includes over 230 entries (all impressively authored by Andrea himself) with useful further reading sections. At the time of its publication it was (and remains) an extraordinarily useful volume to keep handy as it addressed hundreds of topics authoritatively and concisely. Alan V. Murray’s monumental 4 volume encyclopedia is much more substantial and covers a broader range of topics, but it’s also not as convenient so I tend to consult Al’s more often for quick reference.
Edgington, Susan B., and Sarah Lambert, eds. Gendering the Crusades. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
As someone who early in my career had an interest in masculinity and crusading as it related to the identities of knights in the era of the First Crusade, I came to see (and still see) the contributions to this volume as a fascinating collective resource brimming with insights.
Hillenbrand, Carole. The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2000.
Although Paul Cobb has put out a wonderful book on this topic, Carole Hillenbrand’s classic work remains the most substantive and insightful treatment of Muslim perspectives of the crusaders and events taking place within the Islamic world during the crusading era.
Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.
I think this is one of Riley-Smith’s most important works. Of particular interest are his final two chapters considering how the crusades have been interpreted by modern westerners and Muslims. He powerfully warns against poor understandings of the crusades and how those poor understandings can dangerously heighten distrust of the west in the modern Islamic world. This is no small thing in an age when al-Qaeda and ISIS regularly invoke the medieval crusades in their imagery and rhetoric and as part of a broader effort to justify their deeds.
Madden, Thomas ed. The Crusades: The Essential Readings. Malden, MA.: Blackwell, 2002.
An excellent collection of some of the most influential essays ever published on the crusades. It is handy to have them all in one volume, with thoughtful and illuminating introductions by Madden for each of them. It is also useful for teaching and gives students a sense of the rich debates on crusade history that have taken place in the recent past.
It is tough to limit the choices to just ten. There are so many wonderful works on the crusades by historians like Bernard Hamilton, William Chester Jordan, Cecilia Gaposchkin, Benjamin Kedar, Edward Peters, Helen J. Nicholson and many others that I have not mentioned here, which I regret as they also often rank among the “most important.” There are also numerous important articles that would equal some of these books in importance. For this exercise, I limited myself to just secondary sources and chose those that, if I could only have ten books on the crusades, I would want to be sure to have available.
John D. Hosler – U.S. Command and General Staff College
My list begins with titles useful for the military history of the Crusades, which is the area of my greatest interest. I’ve included a few other “go-to” studies as well.
R.C. Smail, Crusading Warfare, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 1995). Somewhat outdated, the main contentions of Smail’s classic work are nonetheless necessary reading for historians of warfare. His discussion of field operations in the Levant still dominates the conversation about how crusaders waged war in the East.
John France, Victory in the East: a Military History of the First Crusade (Cambridge, 1994). As odd as it may sound, the bulk of scholarly histories of the Crusades spend little time analyzing actual military operations. France’s book corrected that for the First Crusade. It has had considerable influence on subsequent military histories of the period by showing that military affairs need not be subordinate to religious or political histories of the period.
Logistics of Warfare in the Age of the Crusades, ed. John H. Pryor (Aldershot, 2006). This collection is mandatory reading for the military history of the Crusades. The essays are authored by some of the foremost scholars; collectively, they demonstrate the sheer complexity of moving tens of thousands of soldiers across continents.
Christopher Tyerman, God’s War: a New History of the Crusades (Cambridge, 2006). This is my go-to for a single volume comprehensive history of the crusading period. It may not be everyone’s choice for a survey, but Tyerman’s book is much more detailed than its peers and discusses military operations in surprising depth.
Adrian Boas, Crusader Archaeology: the Material Culture of the Latin East (London, 1999). The archaeological study of the Middle East is essential for anyone interested in crusading warfare. Scholars working at Israeli institutions in particular (such as Boas, who is at the Univ. of Haifa) have been prodigious in revealing new aspects of both western and eastern operations via the study of poliorcetics and conflict archaeology.
Paul Cobb, The Race for Paradise: an Islamic History of the Crusades (Oxford, 2014). Crusading scholarship is dominated by studies on the western experience that lean overmuch on the Christian sources. Cobb’s book, a narrative of the crusades from the Muslim perspective, better utilizes the Arabic source materials and is such a much-needed corrective. It is also easier to obtain than Carole Hillenbrand’s equally-impressive The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives (New York, 2000).
A History of the Crusades, ed. K. Setton 6 vols. (Madison, 1969-1989). A magisterial collection of essays spanning the entire crusading period. Today, its usefulness is uneven because many of the pieces employ outdated approaches and/or predate more recent discoveries and sources of information. But others are remarkable for their durability, and the overall collection remains a great resource for first readings of diverse topics. Even better, the entire set is available free online via the University of Wisconsin libraries: https://uwdc.library.wisc.edu/collections/history/histcrusades/
Joshua Prawer, Crusader Institutions (Oxford, 1980). Prawer is one of the great names in crusading history. I’ve picked this from among Prawer’s many learned works because, for me, it’s the best detailed study of how the Crusader States functioned in political and social senses. Trade, agriculture, property rights, economics–this book covers them all in a topical and accessible manner.
Norman Housley, Contesting the Crusades (Oxford, 2006). This is the ideal starting place for anyone wishing to understand the different schools of thought and methodological approaches to Crusades scholarship. Housley’s work is especially important for the study of the later crusades and the effect of the Crusades on western legal, political, and religious institutions.
Carl Erdmann, The Origin of the Idea of the Crusades, trans. M.W. Baldwin and W. Goffart (Princeton, 1977). I struggled with my last pick, but in the end I felt obligated to go with Erdmann because no Crusades list should exclude him. As recent debates over the origins of the First Crusade have reignited in the last ten years, scholars still routinely round back to Erdmann as a first course. This is a classic that continues to inform intellectual and even military considerations of not only the Crusades but, importantly, eleventh century warfare in general.
Kurt Villads Jensen – Stockholms Universitet
To choose the ten most important books requires one to work backwards and remember how one’s own interest in crusading studies began and developed.
Benjamin Kedar’s Crusade and Mission: European approaches towards the Muslims came in 1984 when I wrote my master thesis and very much inspired my understanding of the sources I was working with. It is an extremely important book as it is the first to challenge the idea, strong since WWII, that medieval mission was an alternative to crusading.
Norman Daniel’s Islam and the West: the Making of an Image from 1960 is still a mine of information and inspiration for finding sources. It is outdated and has been replaced by more recent and far more analytical works, especially those of John Tolan, but it was a pioneering work and fundamental for an entire research area considering perceptions of Islam. It is also written in a wonderfully personal style with all Latin quotations translated, except those that concern sex, which are a matter for Latinists only.
Christopher Tyerman’s The Invention of the Crusades came in 1998 when I got my first larger research grant to study the crusades (luckily only after I wrote the application). It contributed significantly to the discussion of how to define a crusade which became extremely important in a Scandinavian and Baltic context where crusading studies really began to take off in the very late 1990s.
Jonathan Riley-Smith’s The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading from 1986 is extremely important for, among other things, its discussions of the motives of crusaders. His The First Crusaders, 1095-1131 (from 1997) was methodologically perhaps more interesting in showing how a reconstruction of crusader networks could explain the geographical distribution of crusaders.
Hans Eberhard Mayer’s Geschichte der Kreuzzüge was first published in 1965 and has continued to come in new and thoroughly revised versions. It is one of the best general introductions to crusading history.
For Scandinavian participation in the crusades to the Middle East, Paul Riant’s Expéditions et pèlerinages des Scandinaves en Terre Sainte au temps des Croisades from 1865 is still the most comprehensive, and the fate of the eccentric, learned, and scandinavophile count is, in itself, fascinating.
For the Baltic Crusades, Eric Christiansen’s The Northern Crusades from 1980 was absolutely the best modern introduction. Since c 2000, it has been supplemented by a huge research output by scholars around the Baltic who have specialised in various aspects – to mention only a few, all published in 2007: Iben Fonnesberg-Schmidt, The Popes and the Baltic Crusades 1147-1254, Janus Møller-Jensen’s Denmark and the Crusades, 1400-1650, and Anti Selartl’s Livland und die Rus’ im 13. Jahrhundert (English translation 2015).
Friedrich Benninghoven’s Der Orden der Schwertbrüder: Fratres milicie Christi de Livonia came in 1965 and is not fun to read, but it is the only comprehensive volume on this small, but important military order in the Baltic. Even less inspiring, but equally empirically heavy is the three volume work in Danish about the Hospitallers in Scandinavia by Erik Reitzel-Nielsen, Johanniterordenens historie med særligt henblik på de nordiske lande, 1984-1991.
Of the immensely many interesting sources for crusading history, the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia from 1227 is among the most vivid and frighteningly direct in its description of warfare and massacres. The edition by Leonid Arbusow and Albert Bauer of Henrici Chronicon Livoniae, from 1955, can now be supplemented by the splendid collection of articles in Marek Tamm, Linda Kaljundi, and Carsten Selch Jensen, Crusading and Chronicle Writing on the Medieval Baltic Frontier: A Companion to the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia, 2011.
My personal hero, however, is Riccoldo da Monte di Croce, missionary to the Orient around 1300 and prolific writer about Islam. His treatise against the Quran, Contra legem sarracenorum, was published in 1986 by Jean-Marie Mérigoux, ‘L’ouvrage d’un frere precheur floretin en Orient a la fin du XIIIe siècle. Le “Contra Legem Sarracenorum” de Riccoldo da Monte di Croce’, in the journal Memorie Dominicane, nuova serie 17, from Pistoia. His fascinating travel description from the Middle East came in a new edition in 1997 by René Kappler, Riccold de Monte Croce: Pérégrination en Terre Sainte et au Proche Orient, Texte latin et traduction. Lettres sur la chute de Saint-Jean d’Acre, Traduction. It gives an impression of the combination of religious sincerity, fascination with and fear of the unknown, warfare, and politics that made the crusades.
William Chester Jordan – Princeton University
Ten Books Important to Me for the Study of the Crusades
William Chester Jordan, Princeton University
Jean de Joinville’s Life of Saint Louis is a text I go to over and over again—so often that parts of it are indelibly inscribed in my memory. Even Jacob Burckhardt, who I sometimes think did not believe that medieval authors had an iota of genuine individualism in their brains or bodies, had to confess that the Life “stands almost alone as the first complete spiritual portrait of a modern European nature” (Civilization of the Renaissance, II, 324 ). Renaissance before the Renaissance—must have upset him to have to write the quoted words!
Du Cange’s Glossarium of Medieval Latin: the dissertationes are a veritable treasure trove of information, not only on the crusades but on all aspects of medieval society, but I was fascinated by the erudition on crusade matters in particular. Du Cange made me envious of the antiquaries of our profession.
The Hebrew Chronicles have long struck me as underutilized by historians of the Crusades, although that has changed dramatically in recent years, but . . .
Even more important to me have been the allusive and elusive and altogether moving Hebrew liturgical poems produced in the twelfth and thirteenth century. It was these, initially in Carmi’s translations in the Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, which inspired me to undertake some study of Hebrew.
This next book may seem strange, but I find the essays, though allegedly introductory, in the Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, absolutely stunning. Jonathan Riley-Smith must have exercised tight editorial control to get essays of such high quality from every single contributor.
Everybody will mention something of Jonathan’s work. I think his masterpiece is The First Crusaders. It blew me away that one could do so much with the charters. It is a real inspiration to do close reading.
Joseph Bédier’s edition and translations into Modern French of the Chansons de croisade have provided grist for a lot of my scholarship over the years, and thanks to a former graduate student in musicology, now Professor Alice Clark of Loyola of New Orleans, I became fascinated with the music, too (edited by Pierre Aubry in the same volume).
One needs to know about the other theaters where these wars occurred. For the Baltic, I have found William Urban’s Baltic Crusade essential.
For Spain, I love Father Burns’ Muslims, Christians and Jews in the Crusader Kingdom of Valencia.
I really use Peter Jackson’s collection, The Seventh Crusade. It has become my go to source in introducing undergraduates to the wide variety of texts and therefore of viewpoints in the period. And, of course, it specifically covers the crusade I have spent so much of my career studying. How could I not adore it?
Andrew, I think that’s ten.
Andrew Jotischky – Royal Holloway, University of London
My ‘Top 10’ Books on the Crusades
I have approached this partly by thinking about the books that have influenced or inspired me, and partly by thinking specifically about the most influential books in my own research area. I have stuck to secondary works, because choosing among primary sources becomes invidious.
(In alphabetical order of author)
Alphandéry, P. ed. A. Dupront, La chrétienté et l’idée de croisade (1959). The classic work examining the religious framework of crusading; now in many ways superseded but still a very valuable work.
Erdmann, Carl. Die Enstehung des Kreuzzugsgedankens (1935, trans 1977 as The Origins of the Idea of the Crusade). Although few crusade historians would now accept all the premises of Erdmann’s interpretation of how crusade origins sprang from Germanic culture, it remains a towering book that cannot be ignored.
Ellenblum, Ronnie. Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (1996). A pioneering work that not only introduces vital new methodologies into the study of the kingdom of Jerusalem but also provides trenchant historiographical discussion.
Hamilton, Bernard. The Latin Church in the Crusader States (1980). For anyone concerned with the Christian institutions of the Crusader States, this is the standard book.
Hillenbrand, Carole. The Crusades. Islamic Perspectives (1999). It’s difficult to imagine what we did before this magisterial book appeared: comprehensive, scholarly and lavishly illustrated.
Kedar, Benjamin. Crusade and Mission: European Approaches towards the Muslims (1984). A highly original and brilliant book; turned crusading studies into new paths.
Prawer, Joshua. Historire du royaume latin de Jérusalem (1969-70). Based on very profound knowledge of the social, legal and political institutions of the kingdom of Jeruslaem – obviously this ground has been covered by many before and since, but Prawer’s is in my view the seminal study.
Pringle, Denys. The Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, A Corpus. (1993- 2009). Monumental study based on archaeological research over many years – an invaluable resource.
Richard, Jean. Francs et orientaux dans le monde des croisades (2003). It may be considered sleight of hand to include a collection of essays, but this shows the range and depth of scholarship of this great historian of the Crusades and Crusader States.
Riley-Smith, J.S. The First Crusaders, 1097-1131 (1997). It would be impossible for me not to include one of Jonathan’s books, given his profound influence on the whole field. I could have chosen others, such as The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading or The Feudal Nobility in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but this is my favourite of his books.
Benjamin Z. Kedar – Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Here is my list of “Most Important” books on the crusades:
Voltaire, Histoire des croisades (1751)
Hans Prutz, Kulturgeschichte der Kreuzzüge (1883)
Emmanuel Rey, Les colonies franques en Syrie aux XIIme et XIIIme siècles (1883)
Carl Erdmann, Die Entstehung des Kreuzzugsgedankens (1935)
Claude Cahen, La Syrie du Nord à l’époque des croisades et la principauté franque d’Antioche (1940)
Jean Richard, Le royaume latin de Jérusalem (1953)
Paul Alphandéry & Alphonse Dupront, La Chrétienté et l’idée de croisade (1954, 1959) [NB: to be checked against Alphandéry’s MS in Paris, Arch. du Rectorat]
R.C. Smail, Crusading Warfare, 1097-1193 (1956)
Joshua Prawer, Histoire du Royaume latin de Jérusalem, trans. G. Nahon, 2nd ed. (1975) [The book appeared originally in Hebrew, in 1963]
Denys Pringle, The Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem: A Corpus, 4 vols. (1993-2009)
As for the importance of other recent books, I assume that “it is too early to say.”
Svetlana Luchitskaya – Lomonosov Moscow State University
There are so many excellent works on the history of the crusades, some of them have appeared quite recently. It is impossible to list all of them. I think that every historian who is asked to speak about “ten most important books” will proceed form his (her) research experience. So will I. I will mention my favorite books that at different times have been very important for my research and teaching. Needless to say, that this choice is rather subjective, and the books are listed in arbitrary order
Steven Runciman History of the Crusades
His three volume History of the Crusades is certainly one of the best comprehensive books which is also written in beautiful language. Even if it is a narrative of events it is the most substantial work on the subject. I have never read a book which provided me with such extensive knowledge about the crusades.
Jonathan Riley-Smith The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading
This is a very seminal book, a real milestone in the study of the crusades history. It has greatly contributed to renewed interpretations of many historical problems (such as, for instance, the motives of the lay crusaders). Reading afresh the sources that had been studied for several centuries (!), the author created a completely new concept of the First Crusade. Not surprisingly, the book exerted a great influence on further research.
Christopher Tyerman The Invention of the Crusades
Of all the inspiring books written by Christopher Tyerman, this thin book seems to be the most useful both for professionals and for a wide audience, since it is a short synthesis of many fruitful ideas outlined in his earlier monographs. He poses a series of interesting questions that provoke reflection and discussions The great merit of the book is that the author looks at the crusades through the eyes of their contemporaries and shows how much our modern views about the crusades differed from the ideas of medieval people. Instead of focusing on the crusading events, the book argues convincingly that what we call crusades are just a fragmented series of military and religious activities that lacked coherence.
James Brundage Medieval Canon Law and the Crusader
No doubt, the direction of the crusading studies was changed by this work. The author examined the crusade first of all as ecclesiastical institution. What interested him was the perception of the crusade by the canon lawyers. This led him to use completely new sources and to identify many new interesting problems which remain open and are now studied by many historians (such as crusade vow, crusade liturgy etc.). I think his study of the canonical theories of the crusade was very important for the subsequent debates over the definition of the crusade.
Giles Constable Crusaders and Crusading in the Twelfth Century
This is a collection of articles written at different times, but each of them opens up previously unexplored paths. Suffise it to say that Giles Constable was the first to draw attention to such sources as medieval charters. Would it be possible to investigate the religious ideas and motivations of the laymen who fought in the crusades or to study the financing of the crusades without incorporating these sources into historical work? Long before the debates between “pluralists” and “traditionalists” Giles Constable showed in one of his articles (The Second Crusade As Seen by Contemporaries) that the crusading movement was highly diverse and complex and embraced not only the expeditions directed to the Holy Land. Finally, I should mention his brilliant article on the historiography of the crusades in which he traced the development of the ideas about the crusade over eighth centuries (!) starting by the contemporary sources of the 12th century and ending by the works of modern historians. This was a remarkable achievement.
Paul Alphandéry, Alphonse Dupront La Chrétienté et l’idée de croisade
This is one of the most essential studies on the history of crusading mentality undertaken long before Jonathan Riley-Smith. Although today the work is often criticized, one can not deny that it was one of the first attempts to study the history of collective mentality and psychology of the crusade period. Miracles, visions and apocalyptic signs that accompanied the First Crusade are thoroughly in this work. Since the publication of the book many historians shift focus from the history of events and institutions to the “interior history” of crusades.
Carl Erdmann Die Entstehung des Kreuzzugsgedankens
I read the book several times always finding new ideas. This is a brilliant study of the origins of the ideas of crusading in the medieval West. Though the book was published for the first time more than 70 years ago, it does not seem outdate nowadays. As P. Alphandéry and A. Dupront, C. Erdmann was particularly interested in the popular ideas of the crusade, at the same time his approach was strikingly different. His analysis of the development of the concept of holy war throughout the Middle Ages is really masterful and impressive. The book is still very important not only for the crusade historians but to the scholars who study the history of political thought as well.
Benjamin Z. Kedar Crusade and Mission: European Approaches Toward the Muslims
I am speaking about this work because it had most direct influence on my work. But even if I were not interested in the book’s subject which is close to my own research, I would advise to read it. This is the most thorough analysis of the relations between the Christian West and the Islamic world covering the period from the Early Middle Ages to the 14th century and embracing not only Crusader states but Sicily and Spain as well. The book proved to be very seminal as many topic raised by B.Z. Kedar (religious conversion in the Middle Ages, Christian attitudes towards Islam tec.) attract nowadays the attention of modern researchers.
Jean Richard Croisés, missionaires et voyageurs . Les perspectives orientales du monde latin médiéval. London, 1983.
This is a collection of articles written on different fascinating subjects (missions to the Far East, travels and pilgrimages in the Late Middle Ages etc.) by one of the most skilled Crusade historians .Despite the variety and richness of the historical material, an overall coherence is achieved by revealing connections of seemingly separate topics. Meticulous analysis of sources and fantastic erudition of the author could not be more impressive. What is more remarkable is the author’s attempt to study the popular (or maybe public?) opinion of the medieval society (for instance, Jean Richard analyzes the medieval judgments concerning the quarrels of the French and English kings during the Third crusade) which is still an unexplored area.
Olga Dobiash-Rozhdestvenskaya The Age of the Crusades. The Latin West and the Crusading Movement
Finally I would like to say some words about the book written by Olga Dobiash-Rozhdestvenskaya who was a prominent representative of the Saint-Petersburgh school. The book seems to me very important. It was first published in 1918 but, regretfully, unlike her many other books (as “Le Culte de Saint Michel et le Moyen Age latin” etc.) has never been translated into Western languages. In many ways she anticipated some of the trends of crusading historiography of the present day. In particular, she made an attempt to study the psychology of the crusaders and to analyze the motives and driving forces of the crusading movement. She always tried to place the crusading movement in a wider historical context to show that the crusade as institution existed only in relation to the dictates of the Western society and policy. The Age of the Crusades did not end, according to her, with the victory of Islam over Christianity in 1291 but it continued until the end of the 15th century when the last remnants of the Crusader states ultimately disappeared. Besides O. Dobiash-Rozhdestvenskaya was a skilled writer able to captivate her readers. The book is truly a literary masterpiece.
Laurence Marvin – Berry College
10 most influential/Best/Favorite books on the Crusades
This list would be different depending on which of the above parameters one chose to follow. I decided to go with the 10 books that immediately come to mind, and have to hand. I’m not listing them in any order of importance; rather if I had to give someone a list of ten books they ought to read about the crusades, these are the ones I found most useful or enlightening. There are many others that should be listed, but I’ll honor the rules.
John France’s Victory in the East. A Military History of the First Crusade is an exceptionally researched and well-written and argued book. Every military historian of every era ought to read this book. I still rank it as the best accessible history of the First Crusade, regardless of focus.
Thomas F. Madden, A Concise History of the Crusades. This is the one I recommend to people who want to read one book on the crusades. Everyone who has ever took my recommendation tells me how much they enjoyed reading it. It covers a lot of ground in few pages and does it well.
Christopher Tyerman, The Debate on the Crusades. This book is like a J’accuse towards everyone who has ever written about the crusades. I loved the snark, and I think it makes its readers more critical, as they ought to be. It’s the best thing I’ve read on crusade historiography.
Christopher Tyerman, God’s War. At first I thought it was too long, but now I realize what a feat it was to cover all he did and do so much of it so well. For those with the time to spend, this whopper is worth it.
Donald E. Queller & Thomas Madden, The Fourth Crusade, 2nd ed. It may be unfair to include this because I was a student of one of the authors and am friends with the other. Yet this book, like France’s, is the embodiment of well-written narrative and first rate analysis. It’s the kind of history I most enjoy reading.
James M. Powell, An Anatomy of a Crusade, 1213-1221. I’m still scratching my head wondering: how the heck did Powell say so much and cover so much ground in just over 200 pages? This is a gem of succinct and economic writing.
Jonathan Phillips, The Second Crusade. I can’t believe I thought I could write a book on the 2nd crusade. Luckily, Jonathan did it before me, and, after I read it, I realized how hard it would have been. I liked this book particularly for its wide range, way beyond one theater of conflict.
Joseph Strayer, The Albigensian Crusades. I read this book a long time ago, and then again after I wrote my own book on it. I figured I wouldn’t like it so well that 2nd time, but I did. Strayer handled a controversial topic in a very judicious way and I agreed with him far more than I disagreed.
Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading. I read this a long time ago as well, but I remember how much it helped me really understand what a crusade was, and what it meant.
Stephen Runciman’s 3 volume History of the Crusades. This continues to act as a sort of catnip or Siren for anyone interested in the crusades. I was heavily influenced by it, and have spent the remaining years in recovery fighting off its influence. It ought to have a warning informing its readers that if they plan to read only one thing on the crusades, they cannot read these volumes.
Nicholas Morton – Nottingham Trent University
In recent years there have been so many really good books published on the history of the Crusades that its quite hard to pick out a list of only ten, but in my view these are the ones that really stand out (in no particular order). Incidentally, I surprised myself when forming this list because so many of the studies that I’ve found most inspirational advance arguments with which I cannot fully agree.
Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Knights Hospitaller in the Levant c.1070-1309 – Riley-Smith’s first general history of the Hospitallers in the Eastern Mediterranean published back in the 60s was a really excellent piece of work, but this later survey is truly superb, showing an incredible depth of knowledge.
Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades, Christianity and Islam – This is a very thought-provoking book indeed on the legacy of crusading.
Michael Kohler, Alliances and Treaties between Frankish and Muslim rulers in the Middle East – This is an inspirational study identifying the forces shaping diplomacy between Near Eastern powers during the twelfth century (and briefly the thirteenth). I’m not sure that I fully agree with all Kohler’s conclusions but nevertheless there are some very insightful ideas under discussion here.
John France, Victory in the East: A military history of the First Crusade – Majestic and unsurpassed, this is the definitive military history of the First Crusade.
Alan Murray (ed.) The Crusades: An Encyclopedia – it’s a very rare week when I don’t consult this fabulous reference work at least once. It is an essential resource for historians of the crusades.
Denys Pringle, The Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem – The creation of this authoritative four volume set is a truly astonishing achievement. Again it’s the kind of work that needs to sit at the elbow of every historian of the Crusader States.
Adrian Boas, Domestic Settings – A groundbreaking and accessible study on the domestic lives of Franks living in the Crusades States
Ronnie Ellenblum, Crusader Castles and Modern Histories – In this entry I could have named any of Ellenblum’s major publications. I have similar views about them all. I once heard him described as ‘visionary’ and I think that this verdict is roughly correct. I don’t think that he gets everything right and there are some points where I completely disagree, but nonetheless the depth of his insight is profound.
Bernard Hamilton, The Leper King and his heirs – This book was a real example to me in the early stages of my career of what a really good political history should look like.
Nils Blomkvist, The Discovery of the Baltic: The Reception of a Catholic World-System in the European North (AD 1075-1225) – This book isn’t strictly speaking about crusading but I found many of Blomkvist’s ideas and methodologies to be both imaginative and inspiring.
Steve Muhlberger – Nipissing University
I am not a historian of the Crusades — I am a historian of chivalry. Yet at various times over the past 40 years I’ve felt the need to find a new book or several that would throw some light on an aspect of Crusading relevant to my interests. Here are a few books – all of them written in English — that may or may not be the best, but which have made me think about the big picture and might help others to do so.
If I was doing a list of “Ten Most Important…” I would begin with Walter Scott’s The Talisman or one of the video versions (Kingdom of Heaven) because the story of Richard Lionheart, Saladin and all the other heroic and possibly misguided (“possibly,” depending on who you ask) warriors on all sides has an endless fascination, whatever the experts may know or say. The questions before Scott were whether the Crusades were a worthy enterprise, and whether the motives of the Crusaders were worthy. We still debate them.
For readers during much of the twentieth century, Steven Runciman’s eloquent A History of the Crusade answered these questions with a resounding “no.” Runciman’s hostility to the Crusaders is now rejected by many scholars, but the existence of such a brilliantly written condemnation of the heroic Crusaders still contributes a valuable perpective, and no doubt will continue to do so.
But let’s talk about recent works, remembering that others have already identified some of the very best.
Christopher Tyerman’s God’s War, ambitious, detailed and imperfect is important not only because it attempts an up-to-date synthesis, but because it treats in a compelling fashion many aspects of the Crusades that I had never thought about sufficiently: for instance, Innocent III’s efforts to discipline the whole disobedient world, and the significance of Frederick II as the imperial sponsor of the Crusade.
The Crusade outside of the East? Every medievalist should think long and hard about the Albigensian Crusade. A recent book that catches its importance and excitement is Mark Pegg’s A Most Holy War.
And what about the Christian communities of the East, whose rescue was one reason for the launching the whole enterprise? Christopher MacEvitt’s The Crusades and the Christian World of the East. I learned a lot from this book, and it made me think about how the Crusades might have turned out differently.
Dan Franke has already praised Paul Cobb’s The Race for Paradise and Carole Hillenbrand’s The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives. They deserve the attention.
Picking out an excellent discussion of military or naval history took me well beyond my competence, but saying nothing would be ridiculous. I chose a classic from my student days, R.C. Smail’s Crusading Warfare, 1097–1193. Still an excellent way to learn some of the basic facts of war in the Holy Land — and elsewhere.
Alan V. Murray – University of Leeds
(My) Ten Most Important Books on the Crusades
This is not a straightforward exercise. To be charged with selecting the ten most important books on the crusades runs several risks. Should one select the works which seem to have been most influential in scholarship, or which have achieved some iconic or otherwise worthy status? Like many other academics who went to university in the late twentieth century, my interest in the crusades was sparked when reading Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, 3 vols (Cambridge, 1952-54), while I was still in secondary school. Yet at university I began to doubt some of Runciman’s interpretations, and subsequently have disagreed with a great many things he wrote. So, as it is a work which has had a huge capacity to inspire despite its flaws, I will grant it a place at the portal, but deny it a seat of honour within the temple. I could happily recommend several dozen books which I think are important for an understanding of the crusades, but I have chosen to write about those works which have proved most significant for my own research, and I feel bad about not including works by Jonathan Riley-Smith, Norman Housley, Christopher Tyerman, Ronnie Ellenblum and others. The ten books listed below are some of those which are always near at hand as I work, since I refer to them constantly. This explains why I have avoided general histories (with one exception) in favour of source editions and more specific works of interpretation. A couple have a personal involvement. I have also taken a fairly narrow interpretation of the crusades and excluded the history of the military orders; this has meant the exclusion of excellent works by Malcolm Barber, Helen Nicholson and Jonathan Riley-Smith.
First, the sources:
- William of Tyre, Chronicon, ed. R.B.C. Huygens (Turnhout, 1984). Of all the medieval chroniclers of the crusades, William of Tyre is the historian’s historian. Huygens’ edition allows us an insight into world view and thought processes of a writer who thought deeply about the past, present and future of his homeland
- Albert of Aachen, Historia Ierosolimitana / History of the Journey to Jerusalem, ed. and trans. Susan B. Edgington (Oxford, 2007). Albert’s chronicle provides a narrative of the First Crusade which is completely independent of the chronicles influenced by the Gesta Francorum tradition. It is remarkably detailed, reflecting the great industry of the canon of Aachen in questioning returned crusaders and collating their testimonies. Susan Edgington’s Latin edition with facing page translation is the product of decades of research and a thing of beauty. I am Albert of Aachen’s second greatest fan.
- Henry of Livonia, Heinrichs Livländische Chronik (Heinrici Chronicon Livoniae), ed. Leonid Arbusow and Albert Bauer (Hannover, 1955). This chronicle provides the historiographical fundament to the entire history of the early crusades in the Baltic region, written by a cleric who – unusually – shows a great interest in, and understanding of, the Baltic lands and their peoples and languages, the workings of the Divine will, and military affairs, as well as the history of the Christian mission. Henry’s chronicle is a wonderful source whose potential has by no means been exhausted.
- Die Urkunden der lateinsichen Könige von Jerusalem, ed. Hans Eberhard Mayer (Hannover, 2010). The product of a lifetime’s engagement with the royal charters of Jerusalem, and building on dozens of earlier studies, this four-volume edition is a magnificent research tool. The quality of the texts, apparatus, introduction and indexes is likely to be rarely equalled in any source editions in the future.
And second, the works of interpretative history:
- Hans Eberhard Mayer, Geschichte der Kreuzzüge (Stuttgart, 1965 to date). It is unusual for books on the crusades to go into more than one edition, but this paperback, aimed at university students, has is now in its tenth incarnation. The ever lengthening endnotes indicate how Mayer has kept this work up to date by incorporating references to the latest research in the field.
- Eric Christiansen, The Northern Crusades: The Baltic and the Catholic Frontier, 1100-1525 (Oxford, 1980). When it first appeared (an improved second edition was subsequently published) this was the first complete account of the Baltic crusades in English, ranging from the first campaigns of the Germans against the pagan Slavs in the twelfth century through to the triumph of the Polish-Lithuanian coalition over the Teutonic Order in the fifteenth. It draws on sources in a wide range of languages and provides a clear exposition of the topography, economy and social structure of the region alongside its narrative of political and religious history. Most historians would have preceded a publication like this with a series of preliminary studies, but The Northern Crusades appeared fully formed, without progenitors. This is a book that one can read again and again, and learn something every time.
- Paravicini, Werner, Die Preußenreisen des europäischen Adels, 2 vols (Sigmaringen, 1989-95). A completely new perspective on the Baltic Crusades, moving the spotlight away from the Teutonic Order onto a group which can scarcely been studied before, namely the hundreds of nobles and knights of western Europe who travelled to Prussia to join the reysen against pagan Lithuania. It presents a wealth of detail from a vast range of sources (many unpublished). Unfortunately only two volumes have appeared to date, but a completion of the work is promised.
- John France, Victory in the East: A Military History of the First Crusade (Cambridge, 1994). John France pulls off the difficult task of providing a coherent narrative of the First Crusade while also dealing thematically with issues of army organisation and recruitment, weaponry and armour, and strategy and tactics, in both East and West. This book is much more than its title implies – it is still the best general history of the First Crusade.
- Ane Bysted, Carsten Selch Jensen, Kurt Villads Jensen and John Lind, Jerusalem in the North: Denmark and the Baltic Crusades, 1100-1522 (Turnhout, 2012). Writing a collaborative monograph is difficult enough, but these four historians from Denmark produced a work which illustrates the astonishing breadth of Danish participation in crusading. It was truly ground breaking, since up to that point the subject of crusading had been totally dismissed by the prevailing socio-economic bent of Danish historical scholarship. I am proud to have played a part (as series editor) in publishing an English translation of the original Danish text.
- Logistics of Warfare in the Age of the Crusades, ed. John Pryor (Aldershot, 2006). I confess to partiality in this choice, since I was involved in the genesis of this volume, a conference organised in Sydney by John Pryor, which was the most profitable and enjoyable academic event I have ever attended (a serious accolade, since I have been to many events which provided both profit and enjoyment). This gives a diverse, impressive range of detailed studies which opened up the field of logistics as a subject for research.
Helen J. Nicholson – Cardiff University
This is a list about crusades, not military orders! And this list concentrates on the campaigns rather than the home front, otherwise I would add Simon Lloyd, English Society and the Crusade 1216-1307.
These are not the best books of all; they are my most-used books, the books that I refer back to again and again. They reflect my age: these are nearly all books that I read as a graduate student or in my early years as a lecturer, when I still had time to read books.
In alphabetical order of author:
Eric Christiansen, The Northern Crusades: the standard overview of the subject;
Susan Edgington and Sarah Lambert, Gendering the Crusades: it enabled us all to push the subject forward;
John France, Victory in the East: still a brilliant, thorough military history of the First Crusade;
Norman Housley, The Later Crusades: opened up study of crusades after 1291;
Hans Eberhard Mayer, The Crusades: still an excellent standard history. From the point of view of my students, it has the attraction of being written by a scholar outside the Anglo-American world;
Alan V. Murray, The Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem: A Dynastic History 1099-1123: this brilliant short work of prosopography demonstrates how much can be learned through prosopographical research;
Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading: of all Jonathan’s books, this remains perhaps the most accessible ‘way in’ to his view of the crusades;
Silvia Schein, Fideles Crucis: The Papacy, the West and the Recovery of the Holy Land 1274-1314: because she has so much to say about the military orders, this remains my favourite general study of crusade plans after 1291;
RC. Smail, Crusading Warfare, 1097-1193: there are newer studies but this one opened up the subject;
Christopher Tyerman, England and the Crusades: Tyerman has since written many important works, but I keep going back to this one for its skilful composition, its wit and simply being a great book to read.
(Am I allowed to thank the person who recommended my edited collection Palgrave Advances in the Crusades? A great team of contributors who produced some very fine papers.)
Edward Peters – University of Pennsylvania
“What ten books do you think are the most important books ever written on the crusades?”
Most important? I can list ten books that have been very important for the field of crusade history (a vast field, full of many scholarly folk and possessing many different aspects), but I wouldn’t dare to claim that they are the most important. At the end of a scholarly career that has often dealt with crusades, I think that the following ten books (with sly references to a few others and to an article or two as well as some references to more recent updates of earlier works) are very important indeed and can, with the works cited by other contributors to this blog be discussed with students at the beginning of a seminar to show them how a scholarly subject has become what it is and at the end to show why.
I approached this problem with several assumptions. First, that not all the most important books about the crusades have been written in English. Second, there were at least four socio-cultural groups that had to be accounted for in such a list: Latin Christianity (which governs most of this list and doesn’t have a unique reference here), Greek Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. That left me six distinct areas (out of several dozen) for which to select important books. The areas I’ve selected are: sources, methodology, the idea of crusading, multi-author surveys, material history, and surveys of historiography.
Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, 3 vols. (Cambridge, 1951-1954). Drawing largely upon the recent research of several remarkable French scholars of Byzantine civilization, Runciman, a private scholar of Byzantine and Balkan history, produced an enormously readable and popular history of the crusades that dominated crusade readership for a generation and brought the role of Greek Christianity and the East Roman Empire squarely to the fore in crusade studies, where it had long been banished to the periphery by scholars like Edward Gibbon and his successors. That it is now central is one admirable result of Runciman’s work, although the work itself contains many errors and is no longer helpful for scholarly use, except in demonstrating the high art of English prose. The strong case for the Byzantine role in the crusades has been continued by the learned organization The Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East and its journal Crusades (2001- ) and by such studies as that of Jonathan Harris, Byzantium and the Crusades, 2nd.ed, (London, 2014), and Peter Frankopan, The First Crusade: The Call from the East (London, 2012).
Carole Hillenbrand, The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives Edinburgh, 1990). Hillenbrand’s is the best survey based on contemporary critical scholarship of much of the Islamic perception of the crusade movements, without a knowledge of which crusade history cannot be done. Although earlier work in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had attempted to use Arabic sources, the Western study of Islam itself had not advanced far enough for such research to be worked into historical studies (one exception was Francesco Gabrieli, Arab Historians of the Crusades (New York, 1969, but an English translation of a translation into Italian of sources written in Arabic). The late twentieth-century publication of modern, reliable editions and translations of Arabic sources has made the study of Arabic/Islamic culture an essential part of crusade history. Hillenbrand’s work has been very influential, and more recent studies have profited from it, e.g., Paul Cobb, The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades (Oxford-New York, 2014).
Adolf Neubauer and Moritz Stern, eds. Hebräische Berichte über die Judenverfolgungen während die Kreuzzüge, Seligman Baer, trans., Quellen zur Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland 2 (Berlin, 1892). For the first time, Neubauer and Stern published the original Hebrew texts with German translation, bringing Jewish history, particularly the Rhineland massacres of 1096 and the Jerusalem massacres of 1099, directly into crusade history, although it took some time for this major aspect of crusade history to be routinely considered by scholars. An English translation by Schlomo Eidelberg appeared in 1977, but these texts finally received a modern edition and German translation by Eva Haverkamp, Hebräische Berichte über die Judenverfolgungen während des ersten Kreuzzugs, MGH Hebräische Texte aus dem mittelalterlichen Deutschland 1 (Hanover, 2005). The new edition also marks the emergence of major schools of American and Israeli historians, e.g., Robert Chazan, European Jewry and the First Crusade (Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1987), and in Israel beginning with Joshua Prawer and continuing with Prawer’s greatest student, Benjamin Z. Kedar, whose detailed studies have done much to correct some poisonous mythology: Benjamin Z. Kedar , “Crusade Historians and the Massacres of 1096,” Jewish History 12 (1998), 11-31; “The Jerusalem Massacre of July, 1098 in the Western Historiography of the Crusades,” Crusades 3 (2004), 15-76.
Jacques Bongars, Gesta Dei per Francos sive Orientalium expeditionum et regni Francorum Hierosolimitani Historia…(Hanau, 1611; rpt. Jerusalem, 1972). Bongars, a Calvinist scholar-diplomat chiefly in the service of the kings and nobles of France, skillfully and learnedly assembled, edited, and published seventeen narrative texts of crusade history, many for the first time (his was the third and up to that time the best edition of William of Tyre’s great twelfth-century narrative history) and made them available together in a single massive volume of 1500 pages in Latin, two of whose other features are worth noting. Bongars printed for the first time the thirteenth-century map of the Holy Land by the Genoese cartographer Pietro Vesconte that accompanied the early fourteenth-century Book of the Secrets of the Faithful of the Cross by Marino Sanudo, and along with the work by Sanudo’s older contemporary Pierre Dubois, Concerning the Recovery of the Holy Land, Bongars also implied correctly that crusade planning continued long after the fall of Acre in 1291, indeed down to Bongars’ own time. It may be said that in this work Bongars invented crusade history as a field. As far as narrative history is concerned, recent scholarship has enthusiastically rediscovered its early versions, e.g., in Marcus Bull and Damian Kempf, eds., Writing the Early Crusades: Text, Transmission and Memory (Woodbridge, UK-Rochester NY, 2014).
Heinrich von Sybel, Geschichte des Ersten Kreuzzugs (Düsseldorf, 1841; 2nd. ed. Leipzig,1881). Never translated into English, but the Preface and a group of lectures on the subject delivered in Munich by von Sybel in 1855 were translated by Lucie, Lady Duff Gordon, as The History and Literature of the Crusades (London, 1861). The young von Sybel, twenty-four in 1841 and fresh from the revolutionary seminars on historical methodology held by Leopold von Ranke at the University of Berlin, which had contained sharp critiques of the reliability of several of the narrative sources of the First Crusade (including William of Tyre), applied the new method of rigorous textual analysis to the traditional, confessional, and largely Romantic reading, often fueled by religious and philosophical polemic, that had prevailed up to his time. His methods have influenced crusade historians ever since. Some recent scholars have skillfully corrected some of von Sybel’s disparagement of particular narratives, notably Susan Edgington,. ed. and trans., Albert of Aachen, Historia Hierosolimitana: History of the Expedition to Jerusalem, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 2007).
Carl Erdmann, The Origin of the Idea of Crusade. Marshall W. Baldwin and Walter Goffart, trans.(Princeton, 1977). Originally Die Entstehung des Kruzzugsgedankens (Stuttgart, 1935). Erdmann brilliantly laid out the devotional and reform-minded context of the Latin Christian culture from which the crusading movement emerged. His long experience in working with papal and other original documents gave him a sharp sense of the fit between devotional exercises and the potential for a new role for the Christian warrior developed in the reform movements of the late eleventh century. Although a few of Erdmann’s theses have been modified, the book brought non-confessional religious interpretation securely into crusade history. It remains basic reading for any student of the subject, now supplemented by. Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading (Philadelphia, 1986), and Riley-Smith’s many other studies
Kenneth M. Setton, ed., A History of the Crusades, 6 vols. (Philadelphia-Madison, 1958-1989). This is the first collaborative history of the crusades in all of their aspects written by a team of international contributors under the editorial direction of Setton, a distinguished crusade historian in his own right (The Papacy in the Levant, 4 vols. [Philadelphia, 1976]) and the successor of Dana C. Munro (1866-1933) and John La Monte (1902-1949), the most prominent American historians of the crusades, whose original idea this history was. So vast had the subject grown by the end of WWII, LaMonte had argued, that it required an international collaborative effort to be accounted for. Although much of its scholarship was uneven and is now dated, and publication was slow, this work was for its time the standard reference work in the field. Most recently about to appear is Jonathan Phillips, Thomas F. Madden, Marcus Bull, and Andrew Jotischky, eds. The Cambridge History of the Crusades, 2 vols. (Cambridge, expected 2018).
John H. Pryor, The Logistics of Warfare in the Age of the Crusades (Burlington, VT, 2006). For all of the fine research on the intellectual and devotional nature of the crusades, it must not be forgotten that they were also wars and must also be considered in terms of military history, including logistics, strategy, weaponry, intelligence, communications, tactics and the effect of combat experience. Pryor’s fine studies collected in this volume remind the reader of the tough and expensive material reality of the crusade experience over time: how crusades were recruited and assembled, how routes were decided and traveled, how armies were sustained and paid for, and how battles were conducted. With help from archaeology and art history, the field is now a major component of crusade history, especially in recent work such as Christopher Tyerman, How to Plan a Crusade: Reason and Religious War in the High Middle Ages (London-New York, 2016) and John France, Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades, 1000-1300 (Ithaca, 1999)
Giles Constable, Crusaders and Crusading in the Twelfth Century (Farnham, UK-Burlington, VT, 2008). How major crusade historians regard the state and direction of their field is an important component of the understanding of the field at the time they write. Constable’s essays in this volume are especially valuable because they are extensively rewritten and revised versions of the author’s major studies of many aspects of crusade history over a long and distinguished career. They also cover an impressive range of topics, all essential for crusade history today. Constable’s collection should also be read with Christopher Tyerman, The Debate on the Crusades, 1099-2010 (Manchester, UK, 2011). Together these volumes offer a broad perspective on crusade history past and present by two of its major contemporary practitioners.
Matthew Phillips – Concordia University, Nebraska
For a Crusades historian, choosing only the top ten books is quite difficult. Many excellent studies are not included in this list. For example, I have not included recent works related to medieval spirituality (William Purkis) the liturgy (Cecilia Gaposchkin), familial memory (Nicholas Paul), medieval preaching (Jessalynn Bird), or vengeance and honor (Susanna Throop). Even when I have not completely agreed with all the conclusions in these works, they have challenged my previous assumptions or confirmed some of my own meagre research. The following list consists of books in English that cover key concepts related to the Crusades or a specific period or event. I did not include any general works on the Crusades. The following list of books appears in order of publication date.
James Brundage. Medieval Canon Law and the Crusades. Madison, 1969.
This work applied the study of canon law to the Crusades. In order to understand the evolving legal definition of a Crusader or the Crusades this book is indispensable.
William Chester Jordan. Louis IX and the Challenge of the Crusade. Princeton, 1979.
While significant work has appeared on Louis IX in relation to the Crusades in the past ten years, Jordan’s work laid the foundation for study of St Louis’s Crusades and reign. It is the foundation upon which more recent studies of Louis by Cecilia Gaposchkin & Caroline Smith rest.
Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading. Philadelphia, 1986.
This list could have included many of Riley-Smith’s books. Whether scholars challenge or affirm his work, the study of the Crusades will be a footnote to Riley-Smith for many decades. While not strictly a military history (see John France), Riley-Smith covers the events of the First Crusade and explains its ideological and theological origins.
James M. Powell. Anatomy of a Crusade, 1213-1221. Philadelphia, 1986.
This is the most significant book in English on the Fifth Crusade. Additionally, in this work, Powell anticipated the study of Crusades preaching and Innocent III’s tremendous influence in defining the Crusades in the thirteenth century.
Christopher Tyerman. England and the Crusades, 1095-1588. Chicago, 1988.
I included this work because of the sections on England’s role in the Third Crusade. One could also read biographies of Richard the Lionheart (John Gillingham). Tyerman also anticipated increased focus on crusade recruitment and propaganda.
Norman Housley, The Later Crusades, 1274-1580: From Lyons to Alcazar. Oxford, 1992.
This book examines the Crusades in the later Middle Ages and early modern period. It is the most comprehensive work on this subject.
Penny J. Cole The Preaching of the Crusades to the Holy Land, 1095-1270. Cambridge, MA 1991.
Cole’s book was the first major study of crusade preaching. It covers the preaching of all the major crusades to the Middle East. This work combined the emerging study of medieval sermons and the Crusades. Despite the expansion of these fields over the past 25 years, this work remains indispensable.
Donald Queller and Thomas F. Madden. The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople. 2nd Ed. Philadelphia, 1997.
This (greatly expanded) second edition explained the events of the Fourth Crusade in great detail. Simply put, if someone wants to understand the failure (and success) of this Crusade, he or she must read this book.
Carole Hillenbrand. The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives. New York, 1999.
Hillenbrand applied her linguistic and historical expertise to the Arabic sources to write the most comprehensive work on Muslims and the Crusades.
Jonathan Phillips, The Second Crusade. New Haven, 2008.
Phillips has written the standard book on the events of the Second Crusade. It will be the standard work on this topic for a generation.
Jay Rubenstein – University of Tennessee, Knoxville
I would not claim that these are the top ten books on the crusade. They are instead either books that were especially meaningful to me at some point in life or books that I cannot imagine writing about the crusade now without looking at fairly carefully. I have also tried to stick to monographs rather than primary sources or source collections, which are a whole different problem. And I have tilted toward books that I have been around a few years. In no particular order:
Benjamin Z. Kedar, Crusade and Mission
Bernard Hamilton, The Leper King and His Heirs
Paul Rousset, Les origines et les caractères de la première croisade
Jean Flori, L’Islam et la fin des temps
Malcolm Cameron Lyons and D.E.P. Jackson, Saladin: The Politics of Holy War
Carl Erdmann, The Origin of the Idea of Crusade
Jonathan Riley Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading
Sylvia Schein, Gateway to the Heavenly City: Crusader Jerusalem and the Catholic West (1099-1187)
Carole Hillenbrand: The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives
R.C. Smail, Crusading Warfare, 1097-1193
Iris Shagrir – The Open University of Israel
Ten important books on the Crusades, assembled, not ranked
Joshua Prawer, History of the Crusader kingdom in the Land of Israel, (2 vols., in Hebrew, Jerusalem, 1963) . The first crusades book I ever read, while a high school student. I keep going back to it, not so much for information, but for the witty insights and conjectures, and for the special spirit in which the book was written especially for Hebrew speakers. Prawer linked medieval history with the archaeological remains across the country, and gave our landscape a wistful, intriguing aura. With it must be mentioned Prawer’s The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem: European Colonialism in the Middle Ages (London, 1972) that sparked one of the most productive discussions of the nature of Latin Kingdom, which in many ways is ongoing today.
Claude Cahen, Orient et Occident au temps des croisades : a milestone study of East – West relations in the context of Crusades written by a great Islamic historian who mastered the oriental sources that have become increasingly central in the study of crusades.
Benjamin Z. Kedar, Crusade and Mission (Princeton, 1994), remains an extremely important and dependable analysis of religious attitudes and the relationship between Christianity and Islam, looking at the crusade from multiple perspectives simultaneously.
The Hebrew Chronicles of the First Crusade. The most expressive, and to me the most meaningful reservoir of cultural memory in the crusading context. Either the Hebrew edition of M. Haberman, Sefer gezerot ashkenaz ve-tzarfat (Jerusalem: Tarshish, 1945); or Adolf Neubauer and Moritz Stern, eds. Hebräische Berichte über die Judenverfolgungen während die Kreuzzüge, Seligman Baer, trans., Quellen zur Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland 2 (Berlin, 1892). Or, more accessibly, Robert Chazan’s book European Jewry and the First Crusade, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).
Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading. The exemplary study of sources, attitudes and of the historian’s task. I still find this book one of the most stimulating and sensitively-written studies of religious devotion.
Palmer A. Throop, Criticism of the Crusade: Study of Public Opinion and Crusade Propaganda (Amsterdam, 1940). Although the book’s main thesis cannot stand anymore, it had assembled the dissenting voices and rich layers of popular opinion which have nuanced the study of the crusading movement. To this I must add Elizabeth Siberry’s Criticism of Crusading, 1095-1274, which indeed refuted Throop’s main thesis and reopened the discussion.
Hans E. Mayer, The Crusades (OUP, 2 ed., 1988); an authoritative overview of the crusading movement, albeit focused on the first three crusades. It is still a basic text, often offering fascinating discussion of complex issues related to the idea of crusade.
Ronnie Ellenblum, Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). Ellenblum’s meticulous analysis of the Franks’ settlement across the country revolutionized our thinking about the Latin States’ society and economy, and most prominently of how we perceive the Latins’ attachment to the land and their relations with Oriental Christians and Muslims.
Norman Housley, Contesting the Crusades (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006). A brilliant analysis and an enduring charting of the field of crusade studies.
Christopher Tyerman, The Debate on the Crusades, 1099-2010 (Manchester, 2011). A comprehensive, insightful and very compelling survey of crusade historiography, that proves, and reminds us most skillfully how controversial writing about history can be, in particular writing about the crusades, in the past and present.
…. Eleven. Last but not least is Cristina Dondi’s The Liturgy of the Canons regular of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem: A Study and a Catalogue of the Manuscript Sources (Turnhout: Brepols, 2004) which provided for me and for other scholars the starting point for the current study of the liturgy of the crusader states and its socio-cultural meanings.
David L. Sheffler – University of North Florida
Riley-Smith, The First Crusaders: 1095-1131, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Riley-Smith’s work generally (including the seminal article Crusading as an act of Lvoe) was instrumental in dispelling the myth that crusaders were second and third sons driven by ambition and poverty to conquer new territories in the East. This work explicitly connects crusading to the leading families who saw participation in the crusades as an essential part of their aristocratic identity.
Runciman three volumes—because, Runciman.
Carl Erdmann, The Origin of the Idea of Crusading—Because Erdmann.
Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood: A History of the order of the Temple, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Still one of the few reliable overviews of the development of the idea of military religious orders.
Marcus Bull, Knightly Piety and the Lay Response to the First Crusade: The Limousin and Gacony, c. 970-c. 1130, Oxford: Clarendon, 1993.
Challenges importance of Peace of God movement as a factor shaping the reception of crusading and demonstrates the important connections between monastic communities and the knightly classes who responded to Urban’s call to crusade. Also, like Riley-Smith, emphasizes the centrality of religious motives.
Thomas F. Madden, Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.
Not strictly speaking a book on crusading but it destroys the myths surrounding Dandolo and Venice (they were not peculiarly cynical and secular, Dandolo did not have a master plan to attack and conquer Constantinople dating from his blinding at the hands of the emperor…) Venice and Dandolo were conventionally pious and the conquest of Constantinople was largely the unintended (at least initially) consequence of poor planning on the part of the crusaders who negotiated the treaty of Venice.
Christopher MacEvitt, The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Toleracnce. Emphasizes the permeability of boundaries between Christian Communities in the newly established crusader states. The result, however, was neither integration nor segregation, but something MacEvitt labels “rough tolerance.”
Ronnie Ellenblum, Frankish Rural Settlements in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Challenges the earlier assumptions that the Franks settled primarily in urban areas. Includes archeological and spatial analysis of settlement patterns. Influences MacEvitt
Susan B. Edgington and Sarah Lambert, eds. Gendering the Crusades, Columbia University Press: New York, 2002. Collection of essays, one of the first effort to apply elements of gender theory to the development, practice, and rhetoric of crusading.
Carole Hillenbrand, The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives, 1999. This was one of the first works to address the crusades primarily from Islamic sources.
Michael Lower, The Barons’ Crusade: A Call to Arms and its Consequence, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. Focuses on the transformation of preaching, the redemption of the crusading vow, resistance to papal efforts to redirect the crusade, and the variety of responses to the call for crusade (some regions increased anti-Jewish violence, others a demand for papal recognition of tolerance of non-Christians).
Housley, The Later Crusades: 1274-1580: From Lyons to Alcazar. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. Extends crusading both geographically and chronologically.
Corliss Slack – Whitworth University
My top ten crusade books
Like most of us, I owe a great debt to a number of scholars for more than one book. In the case of the first five authors, their contributions are so broad that I chose books that would give some sense of that, and incidentally be ideal places to start on the crusade movement as a whole.
Alfred Andrea, Encyclopedia of the Crusades (Greenwood, 2003) is a monument to the breadth of his interests and his contributions to the field.
Helen Nicholson’s work on the crusades is also foundational, and especially on the military orders, but the book I recommend to students is The Crusades (Greenwood, 2004). It is brief, engaging, and covers not just the major expeditions to the Holy Land but the wars in Spain, southern France, and northern Europe. There is a chapter on the effect the movement had on Europe, short biographies of key players, and quite a few primary sources. All this and an annotated bibliography in 184 pages!
Christopher Tyerman, God’s War, A New History of the Crusades (Harvard, 2006) remains an exciting introduction to the movement as a whole, suited to both a scholarly and a popular audience.
John France, Hattin (Oxford, 2015) is a crucial guide to how to think about crusading, because it focuses on a key moment, and then follows the way popular culture has enshrined and adapted that moment over time to make the crusades into a symbol for disparate ideas.
Adrian Boas, ed. The Crusader World (Routledge, 2016), contains chapters by almost all my favorite crusades historians, notably Paul Chevedden, author of a number of fascinating articles on Muslim views of crusading which redefine the chronology of the movement and some of our assumptions about its origins. Lots of others who have shaped our knowledge of the crusades are represented, making this a great overview of the work of key scholars in the field.
The next five books are important to me for the work I am doing now, so they represent my own peculiar slant on crusading.
Kathryn Hurlock and Paul Oldfield, eds. Crusading and Pilgrimage in the Norman World (Boydell, 2015) is another collection of essays by scholars, this one more idiosyncratic, because I see the Normans as prime movers in the Mediterranean context that produced crusading. I am also a fan of Kathryn Hurlock, whose books on crusaders from Wales and Britain have opened up a world of thought on who went, why, and what the results were for individuals and their wider communities.
Tuomas M.S. Lehtonen and Kurt Villads Jensen, eds. Medieval History Writing and Crusading Ideology (Finnish Literature Society, 2005) has been a crucial collection in redefining the crusades to include the northern frontier, and in starting to chart the effects of crusading on Europeans.
Penny J. Cole, The Preaching of the Crusades to the Holy Land, 1095-1270 (Medieval Academy of America, 1991) remains the best book on this topic: what was said and how it motivated Europeans to march on Jerusalem.
Nicholas Vincent, King Henry III and the Westminster Blood Relic. Cambridge, 2001 is a brilliant book about how a relic from the Holy Land was used in England to bolster the mystique of the monarchy, and opens up the comparison with the use of relics by St. Louis at St. Chapelle.
Jay Rubenstein, Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse (Basic Books, 2011). How can you talk about crusading and not mention the Apocalypse?
Susanna A. Throop – Ursinus College
I have to confess that I am an unlikely contributor to this project, because I am skeptical of “top ten” or “most important” lists. I tend to fear the potential of such lists to serve as echo chambers.
But I also have to confess that Dr. Holt’s project already seems set to disprove my fears, and I am glad to have been invited to contribute. By including a wide range of scholars with different perspectives, and by leaving it up to us to decide which books we want to list and why, Dr. Holt is creating an intriguing historiographical source.
I hope the number of lists continues to grow, and that all list-makers explore different ways of responding to the prompt. I suspect that at the end of the project—whenever that is—we will be able to analyze not only the trends and individuals whom we believe have shaped our field, but also the ways in which the historiography of the crusades has been defined and by whom. Thus while I don’t believe this project is necessarily going to tell us who the “greatest” crusades scholars have been, I think it will yield critical insight into the field and how it has been constructed.
I’ve chosen to list ten books that I value because they have pushed us to think about the crusades differently. Some of these titles are now lauded classics, but were not necessarily so when they were first published; others have been criticized. The common thread is that they have challenged us to reconsider crusading. For expediency, I have limited myself to monographs (with one exception) and should note that there are many more books that I could list here. Indeed, despite strenuous efforts, have only been able to narrow down to 12 titles; I hope Dr. Holt will be tolerant of this. The list is in alphabetical order by last name.
(I considered constructing a list of books that are not explicitly or solely about the crusades but nonetheless have significantly impacted the field—or should impact the field. If someone else is looking for an angle for their list and likes this idea, I hope they’ll feel free to adopt it.)
Robert Chazan, European Jewry and the First Crusade
Jonathan Harris, Byzantium and the Crusades
Carole Hillenbrand, The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives
Natasha Hodgson, Women, Crusading and the Holy Land in Historical Narrative
Norman Housley, The Later Crusades, 1274-1580: From Lyons to Alcazar
Nurith Keenan-Kedar – I do not have a single title to list for Dr. Keenan-Kedar, but I most emphatically want to include her. Her innumerable publications have brought to our attention understudied visual and material evidence across the Mediterranean from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century, and have urged us to reconsider our assumptions about gender, women, and crusading.
Christopher MacEvitt, Rough Tolerance: The Crusades and the Christian World of the East
Tomaž Mastnak, Crusading Peace: Christendom, the Muslim World, and Western Political Order
Mark Pegg, A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom
Elizabeth Siberry, Criticism of Crusading, 1095-1274
Jonathan Riley-Smith, What Were The Crusades?
Christopher Tyerman, The Invention of the Crusades
Christopher Tyerman – Oxford University
Top Ten Books on the Crusades
As others have noted, this can be an exercise in historiography or autobiography, with the two coinciding more often than is admitted. ‘My favourites’ and the ‘most important’ produce different results, as does ‘those that have influenced me most’. Equally, are fruitful pointers more significant than the research they inspired? Ranke or Sybel? Smail’s 1957 prescient identification of three areas for future work- the military orders, the Jerusalem Assises and crusade ideas and motives- or the scholars who precisely followed that lead? Examples proliferate. Alternatively, are well-edited texts more significant than analysis of them? Or is availability of texts more important? The much-derided but essential resource of the Recueil des historiens des croisades is an obvious case in point. Should modern scholarship take precedence over past landmarks? Finally, what of historians whose corpus is important without one towering work? A list of top ten crusade historians might read differently from a top ten of books, as would a list of the best contemporary scholars and works. Here is my list of significant or influential books (not synonymous).
- Bongars, Gesta Dei Per Francos (1611). The two volumes of texts, edited from original manuscripts 1,500 closely printed pages, almost a million words. Volume I included most of the main narratives of the First Crusade (including the first printed version of the Gesta Francorum), William of Tyre, Jacques de Vitry, Oliver of Paderborn, a selection of papal bulls, letters, canonisation documents for Louis IX and volume 2, Pierre Dubois and Marino Sanudo, with some of Sanudo’s correspondence and maps prepared for Sanudo by Pietro Visconte. Bongar’s work not only provided the most complete textual collection until the nineteenth century Recueil, but in its chronological and textual range and inclusion of visual material still represents the single most ambitious post-medieval work on the whole subject.
- In very different vein, is the Histoire des croisades of Joseph-François Michaud (1811-22 but constantly revised, not least after the author’s trip to the Near East in 1830-1, until a definitive posthumous edition in 1841). Michaud, former royalist pamphleteer, journalist and entrepreneurial publisher , transformed attitudes to the crusades in a sweeping empathetic epic narrative that avoided and to a degree contradicted previous anti-Roman Catholic or Enlightenment disdain and contempt. While not uncritical of the crusades, Michaud admired the crusaders’ idealism, insisting that their battle against Islam was a struggle for civilisation itself and for the positive economic and cultural consequences of the enterprise. This idea of cultural and moral superiority over a barbarous Islam invited parallels with nineteenth century French and other European colonial enterprises, associations that Michaud encouraged. His narrative was based uncritically and sometimes loosely on a wide selection of primary sources (and others including Tasso) which he got translated into French in his 4 volumed Bibliothèque des croisades (1829). Michaud’s work suited the promotion of an supposedly admirable French identity in the contested political world of the early nineteenth century and proved hugely popular, going into 19 editions before 1900 as well being translated into English, German, Italian and Russian. Michaud’s nationalist branding helped inspire the Recueil des historiens des croisades. In many ways, especially after the 1877 edition’s illustrations by Gustave Doré, the popular image of crusaders in western Europe was formed as much by Michaud as by anyone else except perhaps Walter Scott. Michaud’s view of the crusades as western proto-colonialism and cultural warfare spread further with less applause: in 1866-7 it was translated into Turkish, its reception and impact in the Near East proving somewhat different to that in Europe.
- While Michaud was asserting the Frenchness of the crusades through traditional scissor-and-paste selection from chronicles, academic study of the subject was placed on a wholly new footing by Heinrich von Sybel’s Geschichte des ersten Kreuzzüges (1841). German study of the crusades had been less heated or politicised (with the exception of treatment of the Baltic crusades) than in France, as testified by the dispassionate tomes of Friedrich Wilken’s Geschichte der Kreuzzüge (1807-32). Picking up an idea of his teacher, Leopold von Ranke, by using pioneering Quellenkritik , Sybel, a liberal nationalist, dethroned William of Tyre’s account of the First Crusade, which had become more or less standard since the thirteenth century. By seeking to excavate the context, origins and borrowings within texts, Sybel elevated academic research from subjective belles lettres to a degree of empirical scholarship, spawning a tradition that reached forward to the arid yet useful antiquarianism of Reinhard Röhricht and the seminal work on crusade sources by the likes of Heinrich Hagenmeyer and Bernhard Kugler, as well as to modern techniques of textual analysis. Sybel also pioneered forensic crusade historiography in vigorous demolition of previous crusade writers, not least Michaud.
- While Sybel revolutionised technical crusade scholarship, Carl Erdmann’s Die Entstehung des Kreuzzugsgedankens (1935; only translated in 1974 as The Origins of the Idea of Crusading) transformed study of the crusade as a cultural phenomenon by analysing the social, religious, intellectual and political origins of the First Crusade which had been largely ignored by a general focus on functional materialist interpretations since the seventeenth century. By critically tackling the incidence of religious warfare in western European society, Erdmann demythologised crusading, placed it firmly within traceable pre-existing currents of medieval thought and social behaviour and reset the academic agenda. Erdmann’s book remains possibly the most significant single work on the crusades of the twentieth century, its significance easily overlooked as his approach and insights, even where disputed, modified or rejected, became instinctive and habitual in the work of subsequent generations of Of course, Erdmann was not alone. The religious motives and ideas of crusaders were the subject of near contemporary work by the Frenchman Etienne Delaruelle and Paul Rousset while Paul Alphandéry had lectured a few years before Erdmann’s book appeared on a bottom-up theory of popular eschatological motivation, in contrast to the German’s view of a top down process of enthusiasm. Yet for intellectual and critical sophistication, Erdmann retains the palm.
- A greater contrast could hardly be imagined than Steven Runciman’s History of the Crusades (1951-4), a moral epic of heroic ambition, weary outrage, literary finesse and second-hand scholarship. Except in locating the crusades as a major feature of Byzantine history, academically nugatory, heavily reliant on a parade of earlier scholars- Hagenmeyer, Chalandon, Bréhier, Stevenson, Grousset, Atiya etc- Runciman’s book remains one of the most influential works ever written on the crusades, a characterful, individualist stylistic masterpiece that has provided the initial excited inspiration for generations of Anglophone scholars. More a discussion of the malign persuasiveness of untempered enthusiasm over rational civility and lit with a soaringly elevated judgementalism unsurpassed even by the savants of the Enlightenment, Runciman’s history on the one hand reduces the crusades to the novelist’s level of accessible individual behaviour- greedy, arrogant, subtle, generous, brave, loyal, devious ec etc- and on the other to a witness in a timeless narrative of the human condition itself. Runciman set out to expose what he saw as the massively negative consequences of the crusades in a devastating, anti-triumphalist , if often anachronistic, critique that reads like a novel not least because some of it is made up. However, for excitement, engagement and a narrative that draws you in while forcing you to think, Runciman’s intellectual, as opposed to narrowly academic, achievement should not be underestimated. Even so, for maximum impact, his History is probably best first read in adolescence.
- One of those whose early work Runciman claimed to have read but clearly ignored was Joshua Prawer whose studies on the kingdom of Jerusalem both demolished the colonial vision of the nineteenth and twentieth century French school of Rey, Madelin and Grousset, and exposed the narrowness of the feudal fictions of the US school of La Monte. Prawer’s project was encapsulated in his The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem: European Colonisation in the Middle Ages (1972), a tighter presentation than his two-volumed Histoire du royaume latin de Jérusalem (1969-71). Influenced by sociological approaches and interested in the general phenomenon of colonisation across time and space, one of Prawer’s major contributions was, like Claude Cahen before him (La Syrie du Nord 1940) to break free from studying just the Frankish elites in order to look more widely across the society – Frankish, Syrian, Christian, Muslim, Jewish- that emerged in Palestine during the twelfth century. Prawer’s robust insistence that the Franks created an ‘apartheid’ system has been finessed and challenged, not least by pupils and pupils’ pupils such as Benjamin Kedar and Ronnie Ellenblum, but his work set new, lasting criteria both for debate and range of sources to be scrutinised. Prawer’s Israeli perspective added a fresh sense of place and a distinctive tonal appreciation of the crusader interlude: a powerful figure in Israeli academic circles as well as international scholarship. However, I shall always remember him as the man who invited me, then a tyro researcher, for a drink in All Souls to talk about mutual interests (i.e. his research). He had forgotten to provide any drink, so we solemnly shared his packet of jelly babies.
- Forensic scholarship has not always been a feature of crusade studies. However, in his prolific series of studies of Outremer politics, church and lay institutions, as well as in his widely influential acute, combative, concise and limpid textbook, MGH trained H. E. Mayer raised the standard. A central figure in crusade studies for half a century, his great work on the Jerusalem chancery, Die Kanzlei de lateinischen Königen von Jerusalem (1996) is not only a monumental triumph of archival scholarship. It also shows how close reading and controlled historical imagination can take apparently costive texts to illumine human systems of government and bureaucracy at the same time as exposing political currents, details, even drama. The study of chancery practice and of chancery officials has a relevance beyond Outremer, helping to elevate crusade studies out of what sometimes appears a silo lined with mirrors. Mayer’s engagement with debates on what the crusades might have been has confirmed a breadth and humanity of historical vision to go with his scholarly rigour, his arguments combining with a characteristic dispassionate humour, well on display for example in his Zwei deutsche Kreuzzugsgeschichten in Züricher Sicht: Eine Replik (2008) .
- The foundation text for the modern ideological, so-called ‘pluralist’ turn in crusade studies is Jonathan Riley-Smith’s What Were the Crusades?(first edition 1977 and many since). Riley-Smith’s vigorous, engaged, engaging, empathetic but unsentimental approach rests on acceptance of an essentially papal and canonical attitude towards the scope and nature of the crusades in a decisive rejection of both materialist interpretations and anachronistic modern condescension. His own substantial corpus, notably The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading (1986) and The First Crusaders (1997), and the works of his extended network of research pupils, notably Norman Housley and Marcus Bull, have proved highly influential in Anglophone crusade scholarship. In this aspect of his studies (he also wrote on the Hospitallers and Outremer) Riley-Smith built on the ideas of the validity of religious motives familiar from the work, for example, of Etienne Delaruelle or Paul Rousset in the 1930s and 1940s; on the perception of the crusade as a canonical institution as expressed in Michel Villey’s 1942 essay; and on the insights of Giles Constable, both Constable’s methodology of using charters to explore lay crusaders’ spirituality and prosopography, born of his monastic researches, and the perception of the inclusive reach of the crusade in his famous essay on the Second Crusade (1953). While the maximalist view of the crusades was taken for granted by early modern scholars (e.g Bongars, Knolles or Fuller), the colonialist trend had narrowed perspectives just as anti-Roman Catholic or Enlightenment prejudices had denied empathetic understanding of motives. Riley-Smith and his nouvelle vague redressed an imbalance, opening fresh seams of material to be explored while insistent on the underlying primacy of religious belief. Riley-Smith himself wrote with a clarity of vision sustained by an unadorned powerful humane conviction that draws the reader in without lowering the author’s academic dividend.
- Most crusade scholarship has traditionally been by western scholars primarily interested in the crusaders. Few could read Arabic, whilst until recently equally few Arabists turned their attention to the crusades, with some distinguished exceptions (Claude Cahen; Malcolm Lyons and Anne-Marie Eddé on Saladin; Nikita Elisseef on Nur al-Din; Hugh Kennedy; P.M. Holt etc.etc.). Carol Hillenbrand’s innovative The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives (1999) manages two complementary achievements; it introduces the non-Arabist to a new world of Arabic and Islamic evidence; and it provides its own compelling interpretations of contentious issues (for example on the relative significance of Nur al-Din and Saladin). These, coupled with the intensive presentation of material culture as illustration, supplies more than a useful introduction for the non-Arabist. It sets the eastern crusades in a different context where the familiar seems not quite so recognisable. It also points to how historians can see the crusades more generally in a wider frame of Mediterranean and Eurasian history, a perspective previously pioneered by a disparate group of scholars such as Cahen or Kedar, and now pursued by Paul Cobb (Race for Paradise (2014). In a parallel sense, this opening of the subject can be mirrored by increasing attention to the crusades and the Jews (e.g. the classic works of Robert Chazan).
- A different broadening of vision was wonderfully realised a generation ago by Eric Christiansen’s The Northern Crusades (1980; 2nd edition 1997 is preferable). [Full disclosure: Eric was my undergraduate tutor; he advised me against doing post-graduate research on the crusades.] This account of the role and impact of the crusades and the Teutonic Knights on the peoples of the Baltic broke new ground only possible by an author who held a mastery Scandinavian languages as well as the usual western and classical ones, but also helped inspire a new generation of Scandinavian crusade scholars such as Kurt Villads Jensen. Christiansen’s limpid, sardonic style is a joy, as is his evocation of setting, culture and place- the sheer harshness of climate and terrain- and his unblinking vision of the cruelty of war, the suffering of conquest and the mixed motives of crusaders and conquerors, all of which possesses often ignored application to the subject as a whole. The weaving of the crusade into a complex tapestry of social, economic and human experience exposes by implication the limitations of some crusade study as well as pointing to how integrated studies can be attained.
This prolix list (apologies: blame the dog days of August) leaves me conscious of the omissions, those not mentioned even in passing. No space for Thomas Fuller, a Hume or Runciman avant la lettre or the superb moderns: the magisterial Amnon Linder and the wonderful Cecilia Gaposchkin on liturgy; John France on warfare; John Pryor on logistics; Bernard Hamilton and Malcolm Barber on more or less everything; Anthony Luttrell on the Hospitallers; Peter Edbury on texts and on Cyprus; Jonathan Shepard and Peter Frankopan outmanoeuvring Runciman on his own ground; Werner Paravicini on Prussia; Jacques Paviot on Burgundy or the extraordinary and elegant polymath Jean Richard etc etc . The list is long and could be extended far, which suggests the subject survives in fruitful diversity.