God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades

Rodney Stark
R.E.A.D.S. [Audiobook available via Libby]

 

Reviewed by
Clint Alley, Assistant Library Director

 

If you are looking for a fresh perspective on the Crusades, look no further than this 2010 book by famed sociologist Dr. Rodney Stark.

 

It's hard to fathom that modern international politics can be affected by something that happened a thousand years ago. But, in the case of the Crusades, it is true. The standard narrative for most recent scholarship concerning the Crusades is that the rise of twentieth-century Islamic fundamentalism is due, in part, to the Arab world's millennium of smoldering rage at the west for atrocities committed during the Crusades.

 

God's Battalions argues that, contrary to that standard narrative, the Arab world as a whole paid relatively little attention to the history of the Crusades until recently, and states further that the entire era has been grossly misinterpreted by historians who ignore context.

One example of this, according to God's Battalions, is that many recent histories of the era tend to place heavy emphasis on Christian massacres of Muslim communities without offering any context or balancing with examples of Muslim atrocities against Christian communities.

His prime example is the fall of Jerusalem in 1099, whose atrocities, Stark explains, are much better understood if one also understands that all besieged cities and villages of the era were ransacked and put to the sword if they had to be taken by force. According to Stark, it was more of a "standard operating procedure" for medieval warfare than a vicious anomaly saved to mete out on infidels and unbelievers.

God's Battalions is a fascinating book that is sure to spark curiosity and does not shy away from controversy. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a fresh perspective on a very controversial period in medieval history.

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