Books About the Crusades


        Medieval history is a rich period of interest for scholars, readers, and collectors. The Crusades represent one of the more popular and wide ranging fields within that subject. However, it is often difficult to know where to start, or which books are the major works for the field. Below is a guide to help readers and collectors familiarize themselves with some of the most useful works on Crusading history, focusing on those works that were written in or translated into English.

       Prior to the mid-twentieth century, historians usually defined the crusades as a series of expeditions launched to liberate and defend Christian areas in the Holy Land beginning with the preaching of the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095 to the fall of Acre, the last major crusader stronghold in the Middle East, in 1291. A few of scholars extended this period of crusading activity to include early European attempts to stem the advance of the Ottoman Turks and focused on the crusaders defeat at Nicopolis in 1396. However, more recent studies of the crusading movement have broadened its definition to include the wars of conquest and conversion in northern Europe, the reconquista in Spain, and the papacyŐs conflicts against its perceived political and religious enemies. Furthermore, historians are more inclined to see the crusading movement as extending beyond the final collapse of the crusader states at the end of the thirteenth century to the HabsburgsŐ conflicts with the Turks during the sixteenth century.

Primary Source Collections

Peters, Edward, editor, THE FIRST CRUSADE: THE CHRONICLE OF FULCHER OF CHARTRES AND OTHER SOURCE MATERIALS. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971.
       A series of excerpts from the main accounts of the First Crusade. The majority of the book features the chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres, a chaplain to the crusading leader and later king of Jerusalem, Baldwin of Boulogne. PeterŐs work also contains excerpts from the GESTA FRANCORUM, ALEXIAD of Anna Comnena, and the HISTORIA FRANCORUM of Raymond dŐAguilers.

       Another series of excerpts from various sources on the Fourth (1198-1204) and the Fifth (1213-1221) Crusades. For the Fourth Crusade, Peters offers selections from the accounts of Geoffrey of Villehardouin and Robert of Clari, both were direct participants in the event they describe. A large section of PeterŐs book is composed of Oliver of PaderbornŐs history of the Fifth Crusade.

Riley-Smith, Louise and Jonathan, editors, THE CRUSADES: IDEA AND REALITY, 1095-1274. London: Edward Arnold LTD., 1981.
       An excellent collection of sources ranging from the preaching of the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont, 1095, to the planning of a new expedition at the Second Council of Lyons, 1274. The sources are arranged thematically and look at topics such as the preaching, attraction, and experience of the crusades. Moreover, the selection of materials includes items from non-traditional crusades.

Secondary Sources : Origins of Crusading

Erdmann, Carl, THE ORIGINS OF THE IDEA OF THE CRUSADES, M. W. Baldwin and W. Goffart, translators. Princeton: University of Princeton Press, 1979.
       First published in German in 1935, this book is an influential work on the evolution of crusading from late Antiquity until the eleventh century. Erdmann is primarily concerned with the Catholic ChurchŐs changing attitudes towards warfare and development of a theory of holy war, in which violence against enemies of the faith is not only a necessary action but also a meritorious activity earning its participants remission of their sins.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan, WHAT WERE THE CRUSADES? London: Macmillan Press LTD., 1977.
       This is an excellent introduction to the crusading movement. Riley-Smith examines what he considers to be the key characteristics of a crusade. In particular, he discusses such aspects as the need for a just cause, legitimate authority to authorize the venture, the nature of holy warfare, and who participated in the expeditions.

Secondary Sources: General Studies

Mayer, Hans Eberhard, THE CRUSADES, second edition, John Gillingham, translator. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
       First appearing in German in 1965, MayerŐs book is primarily an overview of his massive bibliography of crusading materials entitled BIBLIOGRAPHIE ZUR GESCHICHTE DER KREUZZUGE. He focuses on the crusades to the Holy Land and the history of the Crusader States to 1291. Of particular interest are his chapters on the origins of the crusades and the conduct of the First Crusade (1096-1099).

Riley-Smith, Jonathan, THE CRUSADES: A SHORT HISTORY. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.
       A newer and wider ranging account of crusading. Riley-Smith includes crusades against political and religious enemies of the papacy along with the expeditions to the Holy Land. Furthermore, his work takes the crusading movement to 1523 and even briefly discusses crusading in the context of the NapoleonŐs campaign in Egypt, 1798.

Runciman, Steven, A HISTORY OF THE CRUSADES, 3 Volumes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951-1954.
       Although dated in certain aspects, RuncimanŐs work is still one of the best accounts of the crusading movement. He provides an excellent narrative history written with wit and flair. His first volume discusses the origins and conduct of the First Crusade. In volume two, Runciman describes the events surrounding the Crusader States from the crusade of 1101 to the battle of Hattin in 1187 and SaladinŐs conquest of Jerusalem. Starting with the Third Crusade led by Richard the Lion-Hearted, the final volume of the history climaxes with the fall of Acre in 1291 and explores the aftermath of the crusading movement. Perhaps the main criticism of RuncimanŐs work is his almost exclusive focus on the crusades that went to the Holy Land and Egypt. He briefly mentions some of the other developments, which he views as corruptions of the crusading ethos.

Setton, Kenneth, general editor, A HISTORY OF THE CRUSADES, 6 volumes. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1955-1989.
       An extensive series of essays by various specialists and scholars on the history of the crusades, aspects of the crusading movement, and various related subjects. The first volume covers the opening one hundred years of the crusades from their origins and the First Crusade to the rise of Saladin. Being covered in the second volume are accounts of the later crusades from 1189 to 1311. Crusading during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries form the contents of the third book. Volume four features essays on the art and architecture of the Crusader States. Finally, the fifth and sixth volumes of the series examine the impact of the crusades on the Near East and Europe respectively. Although the essays in these volumes vary greatly in their content and quality, the series is still worth consulting.

Secondary Sources: Other Crusading Studies

Christiansen, Eric, THE NORTHERN CRUSADES: THE BALTIC AND THE CATHOLIC FRONTIER, 1100-1525. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980.
       An excellent narrative on the holy wars waged by the German and Scandinavian princes against the Slavic peoples of northern Europe. In his account, Christiansen provides detailed information about the campaigns and organization of the Teutonic Knights. The book covers events from the efforts of Danish kings and German princes to convert and conquer their Slavic neighbors to the secularization of the Teutonic OrderŐs holdings by Albert of Brandenburg during the Reformation.

      An interesting account of the various crusades preached by the papacy against its secular enemies. HousleyŐs work is an interesting examination of some of the Ňpolitical crusadesÓ the papacy employed in its dealings with secular states. Beginning with the popesŐ recruitment of Charles of Anjou to conquer and rule the kingdom of Sicily, Housley explores the campaigns and tools the pontiffs used to support the Angevin princesŐ campaigns in Italy until the mid-fourteenth century.

Housley, Norman, THE LATER CRUSADES, 1274-1580: FROM LYONS TO ALCAZAR. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
      Moving beyond the traditional date of 1291, the fall of Acre, Housley examines crusading efforts in the later Middle Ages. He starts with the popeŐs efforts at the Second Council of Lyons to promote a new crusade in the thirteenth century and finishes with the HabsburgŐs conflicts against the Turks in the late sixteenth century.

Marshall, Christopher, WARFARE IN THE LATIN EAST, 1192-1291 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
      Almost a continuation of R. C. SmailŐs classic work on crusading warfare, Marshall examines military matters in the Crusader States from the Third Crusade to the fall of Acre. Marshall discusses in detail the tactics, strategy, troops, and campaigns involved in the struggle for the Holy Land.

Smail, R.C., CRUSADING WARFARE, 1097-1193. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965.
      A second edition of this work appeared in 1994. The classic study of warfare during the first two centuries of the crusades. Smail discusses military matters in the context of the society that the crusaders came from and created in the Middle East. Furthermore, he describes the organization of Latin and Moslem armies, various campaigns and battles, along with the castles of the crusaders.

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