Tag Archives: Jonathan Phillips

Kingdom of Heaven

*This following post is adapted from an older 2005 blog post on my now defunct crusades-encyclopedia website and needs, eventually, further updating.

Few films have caused as much of a stir among crusades historians and students as Kingdom of Heaven. The film was directed by Ridley Scott and although it was not released until 2005, various commentaries and criticisms by those who had been given access to the film’s script began appearing in the press several months in advance.

The film focused on the crusading movement in the Levant in the years shortly before the calling of the Third Crusade [c. 1187]. The highlight of the film is Saladin’s siege of Jerusalem and the events leading up to the capture of the city from the crusaders. Viewers are guided through both historical and fictional events from the perspective of the film’s main character, the historical Balian of Ibelin.

While some Muslim groups ultimately expressed praise for the film, many crusades historians did not. The traditional battle between scholarly and popular views of the crusades flared as a result, with some prominent scholars denouncing the director’s claim to historical reliability. Consequently, judging by the nature of most news stories released during and after the production of the movie, the debate over the film’s depiction of historical events became, perhaps, a bigger story than the release of the film. Continue reading

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The Situation for Eastern Christians in the 1090s Prior to the First Crusade

*Main Image: Later map of western Asia-Minor. Please note Nicomedia’s proximity to Constantinople. Taken from Wikimedia Commons.

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As readers of this blog will know, some crusade historians have recently debated if the First Crusade can be considered in the context of a “defense” of Eastern Christians, or a “defensive war.” Such debates can be centered around multiple issues, to include the intentions of the participants, whether or not Eastern Christians genuinely needed or wanted defending, and the technical nature of armies of the First Crusade as an expeditionary army. When historians discuss this issue, they are often careful to offer considerable nuance and various qualifications when giving an opinion on this matter. Those who have written or commented on the issue, often for popular publications rather than scholarly ones, mostly (although certainly not always) seem to find it acceptable to view the First Crusade in the context of a “defensive war,” for a variety of reasons that can be reviewed here.

Related to this issue, I was recently reading a piece by Prof. Matthew Gabriele, now a columnist for Forbes, who addressed this topic in his July 14 (2018) essay titled “Why The History of Medieval Studies Haunts How We Study the Past.” In it, he briefly touched on the crusades, at one point noting “the idea that they [the Crusades] were “defensive” against an aggressively expansionistic Islam has been disproven.” Naturally, I was intrigued. If such a claim has been disproven, many of his fellow crusade historians seem unaware. Gabriele has made similar claims in the past, but this time he linked to a source as the basis for his argument. In this case Gabriele cited a 2011 article on the Huffington Post, written by respected crusade historian Jay Rubenstein. Whatever one thinks of the Huffington Post, Rubenstein is a serious crusade historian and so his comments are worth reading with care. In the Huffington Post piece, Rubenstein seems to agree that the 1070s and 1080s were dangerous times for Eastern Christians, noting the Turkish victory over the Byzantines at the Battle of Mantzikert in 1071 and the capture of the city of Antioch in 1084, among others. But Rubenstein then notes that by the 1090s the Greek [Byzantine] frontier had “largely stabilized,” further noting that “reports of Byzantium’s demise proved greatly exaggerated.” Thus, it is implied that the calling of the First Crusade for the protection of Byzantine Christians was unnecessary, as they were in no real danger by the time the crusade was called at the Council of Clermont in 1095.

I wish that Rubenstein’s article had been published in another forum that would have likely allowed him more length to develop his argument, as well as to cite references in footnotes. This was because his claims about the 1090s as a period of Byzantine stability, were quite different than what I had been reading and thinking about on these issues recently. It concerned me a little bit as Forbes and Huffington Post both have major followings online, and several thousand people will read these accounts whereas largely unknown blogs like my own only very rarely reach such high numbers. My concern was that, rather than Byzantine stability, there were instead many Turkish conquests of Eastern Christian towns, cities, or regions in the 1090s just prior to the calling of the First Crusade. Moreover, some of them were quite threatening to the Byzantine Empire, resulting in increased alarm and an intensification of Byzantine efforts to secure western military aid. Continue reading

The Most Influential Crusade Historians

(Originally Published on 7/27/2017- Most recent update on 10/21/2017)

In a recent blog post, I requested the lists of several medieval historians ranking the ten “most important” books on the crusades. Currently, 33 historians have submitted their lists. Based on a count of the lists submitted so far, and not including books mentioned in the annotated commentary provided by each historian, I have pulled together the following ranking based solely on whose books have received the most mentions. Continue reading