Saturday, October 13, 2012

Malcolm Barber's "The Crusader States"

Malcolm Barber is emeritus professor of history, University of Reading. He is a foremost expert on the Crusades and the Knights Templar, and he is the author of several books, including landmark studies of the Cathars and the Templars.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Crusader States, and reported the following:
Following the Christian capture of Jerusalem in 1099, Latin soldiers and settlers established four states in Syria and Palestine. Antioch, Tripoli and Jerusalem lay along the coast, while Edessa, to the east of Antioch, stretched out on both sides of the Euphrates. Jerusalem was the most important, for the main objective of the crusaders had been to regain the city and the holy places which they fervently believed had been unjustly seized by infidels.

Page 99 does indeed encapsulate some essential elements. By this point in the book, the states had existed for a decade, but were still in the process of capturing the ports, vital for trade and western support; indeed, during 1110, King Baldwin of Jerusalem had gained Sidon and Beirut. The Franks were not invulnerable, but Muslim opposition was often fragmented. The schism between the Fatimids in Cairo and the Sunnite Turks in Baghdad remained fundamental, while local rulers often went their own way, a situation exacerbated by the Assassins, radical Shi’ites hated and feared in the Muslim world.

In 1110, however, a new coalition was assembled by the sultan which, in an attempt to repeat the great Turkish victory of 1104, sought to lure the Franks beyond the Euphrates towards Harran. In fact, most of the Franks managed to escape, but the significant Muslim aim had been, according to the contemporary Damascene chronicler, Ibn al-Qalanisi, ‘to set out with troops to the Holy War’. Although adherence to the jihad was not consistent thereafter, nevertheless, it was an early indication of deep changes within Islam, which culminated in the attacks of Nur al-Din and Saladin. In 1187, as is well known, Saladin overcame the Franks at the battle of Hattin and soon after took Jerusalem itself.

Nevertheless, page 99 tells only part of the story, for these states did not rest upon military prowess alone. Indeed, their whole raison d’être was the possession of the holy places, where they embellished the shrines, founded monastic communities, and coped with thousands of western pilgrims every year. All this was derived from an active economy, based on agriculture and trade, which, in turn, underpinned essential administrative and legal institutions. The exceptional achievements of these men and women were not only those of their soldiers, but of their monks and canons, their architects and artists, and their merchants and farmers.
Learn more about The Crusader States at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue