Synopses & Reviews
On the last Tuesday of November 1095, Pope Urban II delivered an electrifying speech that launched the First Crusade. His words set Christendom afire. Some 100,000 men, from knights to paupers, took up the call the largest mobilization of manpower since the fall of the Roman Empire.
Now, in The First Crusade, Thomas Asbridge offers a gripping account of a titanic three-year adventure filled with miraculous victories, greedy princes and barbarity on a vast scale. Readers follow the crusaders from their mobilization in Europe (where great waves of anti-Semitism resulted in the deaths of thousands of Jews), to their arrival in Constantinople, an exotic, opulent city ten times the size of any city in Europe that bedazzled the Europeans. Featured in vivid detail are the siege of Nicaea and the pivotal battle for Antioch, the single most important military engagement of the entire expedition, where the crusaders, in desperate straits, routed a larger and better-equipped Muslim army. Through all this, the crusaders were driven on by intense religious devotion, convinced that their struggle would earn them the reward of eternal paradise in Heaven. But when a hardened core finally reached Jerusalem in 1099 they unleashed an unholy wave of brutality, slaughtering thousands of Muslims men, women, and children all in the name of Christianity.
The First Crusade marked a watershed in relations between Islam and the West, a conflict that set these two world religions on a course toward deep-seated animosity and enduring enmity. The chilling reverberations of this earth-shattering clash still echo in the world today.
"In 1095, Pope Urban II preached a fiery sermon that changed the course of Western history: he urged Christian warriors to take up the sword and defend their brothers in the East who had been defeated by the Muslims, and to retake the holy city of Jerusalem, then under Islamic control. Asbridge, a British authority on the Crusades, brilliantly re-creates the three-year history of the First Crusade, chronicling its difficulties and victories, not downplaying its brutality but emphasizing its genuinely religious impulse. He vividly recounts the terrible winter of 1096 in Antioch, which reduced the Christian armies from 100,000 to 30,000. Focusing on the warriors' beliefs, Asbridge astutely points out that the warriors interpreted this as God's cleansing of the weaker and less committed fighters and concluded that victory was ordained for the survivors in the final, bloody battles. Asbridge also observes that the Christian forces acted less out of an inborn hatred of Islam than out of a desire for a place in heaven if they died in battle. While relations between Christianity and Islam did not break down immediately as a result of the crusaders' triumph, later pro-war propaganda on both sides drove a wedge between the two religions. Asbridge combines fast-paced history writing, evocative prose and lucid research for a first-rate history of the First Crusade. B&w illus., 9 maps." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Balances persuasive analysis with a flair for conveying with dramtic power the crusaders' plight throughout the nine-month siege of Antioch....Stunning...should revitalize the study of this fascinating period in European history." Christopher Silvester, The Financial Times
"Asbridge has produced a taut, clear and exciting narrative, which also manages to convey the best of modern Crusader scholarship....His pace is tremendous, and he has a remarkable feel of place. It certainly helps that, like so many Crusaders nine centuries ago, Asbridge has himself walked 350 miles from Antioch towards Jerusalem." The Guardian
"Although well researched, the book wears its scholarship lightly and reads like a work of fiction, complete with vivid characters." The Herald (Glasgow)
"Asbridge achieves vivid characterization and gripping storytelling without sacrifice of scholarship. Interweaving analysis, narrative, evocative description and occasional wry humor, he tells us as no other book on the subject really does who the crusaders were, how they behaved, how they killed and died and, most surprisingly of all, how they survived and triumphed." Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, author of Millennium and Civilizations
"There is an underlying assumption among commentators looking at the confrontation between Islam and the West that it has been engendered by the events of September 11, 2001. Thomas Asbridge, by tracing the roots to the First Crusade in his lucid and provocative 'new history,' helps us to understand the present by explaining the past." Akbar S. Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies American University
About the Author
Thomas Asbridge is Lecturer in Early Medieval History at Queen Mary, University of London. An acknowledged expert on the history of the Crusades, he has traveled extensively in the Near East following the route of the First Crusade.