The First Crusade: A New History

by Thomas S. Asbridge

Hardcover, 2004



Call number




Oxford University Press (2004), Hardcover, 448 pages


Publisher description: 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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member john257hopper
A tremendously readable account of a period of history about which I knew little beforehand. The author's lifelong love of his subject is evident and he is able to take an objective approach, seeing the Crusade neither as a wholly religiously motivated venture, nor dismissing it as simply an
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anti-Muslim onslaught motivated by greed. He also covers the massacres of Jews as the Crusaders, especially the People's Crusade, crossed Europe - perhaps an aspect of the Crusade less well known.
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LibraryThing member AngelaB86
The length of the chapters made it difficult for me to follow everything that was happening (a lot of things were discussed together) but I still learned a lot about the First Crusade.
LibraryThing member iftyzaidi
This was an interesting counterpoint to the first volume in Steve Runciman's History of the Crusades which I read last month. Essentially both books cover more or less the same period, though Runciman spends more time giving background information, particularly concerning the Byzantine Empire.
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Asbridge is a noted modern scholar of the crusades and 50 years separate the writing of the two books. When it comes down to it though I would probably pick the Runciman over the Asbridge.

Asbridge's work is written in a readable, popular style. He spends more time discussing medieval European society and is more detailed in explaining the social backgrounds and the 'world-view' of Latin Christendom. There are also some additional biographical details of some of the major crusaders that are lacking in the Runciman, which fills in some questions about the recruitment of the crusaders. To someone with a passing knowledge of Medieval European history, (for example the role of the monastic reform movement in the Church and the importance of pilgrimages in medieval religious life) this information is not really necessary - I found Runciman's focus on the Byzantine empire much more informative given the gaps in my own knowledge - but for someone with no background in the period this is probably useful stuff.

Another way that Asbridge differs from Runciman is there greater focus on the military aspects of the various battles and sieges. The siege of Antioch in particular gets a great deal of attention. Asbridge cultivates a healthier scepticism of Byzantine sources than Runciman and his explanations of the rifts between the crusading leaders is more developed. Asbridge is clear (as Runciman also was) in differentiating between generally agreed upon facts and explanations and his own interpretations and readings of various events. One area in which Asbridge's account is clearly superior is in explaining the period between the second siege of Antioch and the storming of Jerusalem.

All in all its a readable, informative, and gripping read. When it comes down to it, the reason I would probably put the Runciman ahead of it would be because I felt it was better written and focused on areas of historical knowledge that I was less familiar with. Having said that I feel the two compliment each other well and I would have no trouble recommending this book to anyone interested in reading about the First Crusade either.
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LibraryThing member Helen.Callaghan
Reading The First Crusade is a bit like watching a horror movie - starving Crusaders eat the rotting bodies of their enemies at Marrat al-Nu'man, scheme in Macchiavellian fashion against one another, experience fantastical visions and find 5 Holy Lances buried under church floors, shoot their
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enemies' heads into cities by catapult, die of injuries sustained enduring trial by fire. Entire ships of new recruits appear - 1500 Danes, for instance - and within days they have died of plague, to a man. It's all a lot like the movie version of The Lord of the Rings, except it's much, much harder to tell the good guys from the orcs.

The book begins with an analysis of why over 100,000 people would, over two years, suddenly drop everything and go haring off across the world to storm a city they had never seen - and even more miraculously, keep at it in spite of disease, starvation, and constant peril of death or enslavement. Lots of work has previously suggested that Crusading fever was little more than a cynical attempt by younger sons and disenfranchised knights to engage in looting and land-grabbing. And of course this is true in part. But Asbridge argues that it is also true that as many entrenched and secure nobles and heads of families also took up the cross.

As to why, he makes a convincing case that "an authentically spiritual age" with its Christian message of pacifism, ascetism, and self-sacrifice was absolutely at odds with the vicious and violent realpolitik of medieval Europe. To survive and thrive, the knightly class could only engage in behaviour calculated to lead to damnation. The extremely controlling behaviour over sex, religious observances, and every single facet of life meant that this fear of Hell was something shared by the whole population, from the kings downwards. By synthesising warfare and religion into the concept of Holy War, the Church offered the spiritually haunted population a means of reconciling the opposing poles of their existence.

Not even the Pope could have foreseen how explosive this formulation would prove to be to people living in the constant shadow of damnation and under threat of an imminent apocalypse. Certainly the Greeks and Muslims didn't, and a sense of their shock and horror comes vividly alive.

If I had a criticism, it would be that I would have liked to have seen more material from the Muslim side and their strategic decisions - sources something beyond "HOLY CRAP THESE PEOPLE ARE NUTS!" as translated from medieval Arabic. Judging from the extract of his latest which I read late last year, he's way ahead of me on this score, so looking forward to starting on that soon.
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LibraryThing member danoomistmatiste
A detailed account of the first crusade. Sanctioned by the Pope himself. This group of dedicated latins make their way from Europe all the way to Jerusalem. Fighting saracens on the way and winning some incredible victories against all odds. The repercussions of this momentous event are probably
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being felt even today, having possibly caused an unsurmountable rift between two of the world's dominant religions.
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LibraryThing member jerry-book
Interesting. So old Pope Urban figured he would consolidate his power by preaching a crusade against the Muslims in order to solidify his position as Pope (which was on shakey grounds). He manufactures non-existent crimes by Muslims to enrage the gullible population of France. For example, saying
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"Muslims butchered Christians and pored their blood into baptismal fonts." Also, claiming Muslims were "cutting Christains heels open" and "ripping Christian stomachs open." By making Muslims to be non-humans, this later justified the slaughter of everone when the Crusaders took Jerusalem.

The poor Crusaders in order to obtain momey for the trip had to mortgage their lands to monasteries.

Pope Urban had to preach directly against Jesus's teaching of non-violence in the Gospels. The author explains how Pope Urban expanded on St. Augustine's theory of a just war to sanctify the violence of the Crusades. He cleverly repackaged the concept of sanctified violence in a holy war/pilgrimage.

Of course, the Pope did not say going on the Crusade would guarantee the Crusader a place in heavon but many of the participants believed just that. They did believe this would lead to salvation.
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LibraryThing member JHemlock
Mr. Asbridge is my favorite history writer next to Susan Bauer. Easy to read and gives you plenty of references to expand upon what you are reading. In the process brings across the depth needed to understand who these people were and just how far their faith brought them despite the dire
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Original publication date


Physical description

448 p.; 9.6 inches


0195178238 / 9780195178234
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