The Concise History of the Crusades is a notable book by American historian Thomas Madden. In his piece, he discusses the phenomenon of crusades and reflects on the factors affecting Europe in medieval times. Although the paper is introduced as a concise history, it features detailed information about crusades, their routes, the motivations of crusaders, and the results of their actions. This paper analyzes the book and addresses the author’s arguments and the ideas, issues, and historical figures his work features, including Frederick II and St. Loius.
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The report discusses the main points the author presents in detail, addressing the facts and claims he uses to support his arguments. In addition, the work reflects on the ways Madden uses to illustrate the ideas his book offers, noting how they are beneficial for the audience. Finally, the paper presents a reflection on how the book contributes to the personal knowledge of the development of Western civilization and the understanding of crusades in general.
In his book, Madden follows the scope of traditional history and the traditional construction of crusades, which means that in his work, crusades are linked to Jerusalem and travels to the Holy Land. At the same time, his perspective on crusades and crusaders can be considered different from the views of many modern populations. The author points out that, contrary to popular opinion, crusades themselves were not obnoxious or evil; they helped the medieval people to protect their culture and the way of life (Madden 207).
Madden adds that crusaders’ desire to defend their world is similar to all people’s desire to fight for the things they cherish most. He insists that it is human nature that forces individuals to do that and that crusades should not be perceived as unnecessary wastes of human life (Madden 207). The way the author describes crusades, paying attention not only to the events but the feelings crusaders may have had, reveals his eagerness to prove that the modern perspectives on crusades may be flawed.
One of the other significant arguments the author makes is that the crusades were driven by religious reasons, not by economic motivations. Madden reports that “Christians saw crusades to the East as acts of love and charity” (204). The author’s perspective is based on the theory of pious idealism; he rejects other opinions derived from the post-Enlightenment view of religiosity (Madden 11). He criticizes the scholars that believed that medieval people could not take religious treatises seriously. Madden argues that economic factors could not have been a motivation for crusades, as crusades themselves required significant investments.
He notes that knights had to assemble large funds, selling their possessions and turning to their relatives while preparing for a highly dangerous journey (Madden 12). Moreover, crusaders and their families knew that they were likely not to return from the crusades. Based on these factors, the author concludes that the possibility of gaining wealth in Palestine could not have been the motivation for the crusades. It was not worth the sacrifices the knights and their families had to make.
Another significant argument Madden makes in the book is that the tension between the Muslim Middle East and the Christian West was not a result of crusades. He claims that the artificial memory of crusades is the primary reason for tensions, as such a perspective seems beneficial for today’s colonial powers, Islamists, and Arab nationalists (Madden 205). It is possible to say that the last two chapters of the book are more argumentative from this point of view, as the author discusses the legacy of the crusades in the Middle East and the West. He reports that Muslim’s perceptions of their history changed in the last century, as obscurity was eliminated (Madden 201).
Madden adds that crusaders did not view crusades as such significant events, as opposed to Christians, to whom they were of monumental significance. For them, crusades were not different from wars against infidels; thus, they were considered irrelevant (Madden 201). It is possible to say that in the grand history of the world of Islam, the crusades did not matter. Thus, they could not have created significant tension between the Middle East and the West.
Finally, another argument that Madden presents is that the development of crusader states in the Middle East resulted in significant transformations of medieval people’s lives and affected their future development as well. The book shows that the crusades ensured the integrity of Byzantium and supported Christendom in the area until the fall of Constantinople. Moreover, as the region was ruled by Christians, crusades allowed for binding the alternative cultures that had very different lifestyles. In addition, it is possible to say that they prepared a solid basis for future expansions, as it was useful for Europe to have crusading experiences (Madden 117; 120).
In general, it is possible to say that Madden’s book opposes the perspective of crusades as some of the most violent and bigoted acts the population of Eurasia has experienced. His book argues that although crusades had negative aspects and were at times excessive, their participants engaged in them for good purposes primarily.
Ideas, Issues, and Historical Figures Presented in the Book
As Madden’s book presents the history of crusades, the author addresses several significant ideas and issues. He addresses five major crusades and the events associated with them. For instance, he discusses the decline of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem and its link to the Third Crusade. Madden reflects on the events in detail, describing the feelings of bitterness crusaders had after the Second Crusade (Madden 61). It is notable that the author describes all of the events in detail; he presents a clear link between the crusades, reflects on their causes, and outlines the states of the related lands after them.
Besides the major crusades, Madden reports on the crusades of Frederick II and Louis IX, as well as the ones that were local expeditions. The Crusading at Home chapter is particularly notable because it illustrates that crusaders were not only interested in foreign travels and experienced domestic issues as well. However, this chapter also reveals the difficulties linked to crusaders’ perspectives of local issues, which is illustrated by the Albigensian crusade.
One of the issues Madden discusses in the book is the controversial topic of the massacre that happened in Jerusalem in 1099. He notes that the crusaders did not put “the entire population of Jerusalem to the sword”, although they “would have been justified” (Madden 32). His perspective on this event is that the modern views of the massacre are highly exaggerated, as today’s scholars may not realize that the stories “knee-high rivers of blood” were not true (Madden 32).
Notably, throughout the book, the author claims that some facts about crusading have been exaggerated by poetic license in the West and modern reports (Madden 55; 32). In general, it is possible to say that one of the primary ideas the book presents is that the modern perspectives of the crusades are altered by the views today’s populations have. Some of the facts known today may be exaggerated, while others, such as the motivations for crusading, are simply not true.
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One of the notable historical figures Madden discusses is Frederick II, first introduced in the book in relation to the Fifth Crusade. This crusade is proof that the medieval people had a significant enthusiasm for crusading, as it was the Children’s Crusade. The Fifth Crusade was a failure; one of the major reasons for it was that Frederick II did not follow his vows, and was later excommunicated. Moreover, Madden reports that Frederick II’s guardians did not prepare for his crusade thoroughly, and the conditions for the crusade were unfavorable at that time (137-138).
It is notable that Frederick II did not keep many of his promises; for instance, when his wife Constance died, he decided to marry the daughter of King John of Brienne of Jerusalem. Such an idea was not favorable, as people feared that he would proclaim himself the king of Jerusalem; however, he promised not to do that (Madden 147). Nevertheless, Frederick II declared himself the king immediately after the marriage. His next crusade was a success, which Madden describes, however, as “an act of selfless piety for the salvation of one’s soul” (153). Although Frederick II may not be a highly popular historical figure, the information about him presents some of the challenges crusaders faced within their groups.
Another historical figure presented in the text is King Louis IX. His approach to crusading was highly different from Frederick II’s one, as he was devoted to it. Louis IX was born to the family of crusaders and was a notable negotiator. The book refers to the events in which Louis IX opened negotiations with the ruler of the Mongol Empire, which reflects on the ways rulers made politics in medieval times. The information about Louis IX is notable, as it proves that crusaders were not barbarians that preferred to achieve their goals through violent actions. Instead, it reveals that negotiations took place and that crusaders understood the benefits them.
In contrast to Louis IX’s figure, Frederick II’s actions can be considered examples of medieval secularism. Madden’s work reveals that one should not perceive crusades from a single religious perspective, as this historical record is much more complex. It is vital to add that the book presents other significant issues, ideas, and historical figures, and serves as a concise but complete guide on the history of crusades in medieval times.
Madden’s Ways of Illustrating the Issues, Ideas, and Historical Figures
It is crucial to mention that the way in which Madden illustrates all of the issues he discusses is notable. The author presents all the information clearly, helping the reader to imagine the exact scenes he describes. For instance, talking about the Fourth Crusade, he says that the summer was difficult for the crusaders, as they “waited week after week” and “became restless and rowdy” (Madden 97).
Madden’s text is accessible for all readers regardless of their knowledge of the Western civilization, as he sets scenes in a way that is anyone can understand. This point can also be illustrated by the first chapter, in which Madden presents the terminology of crusading. He helps the audience to understand the motivations crusaders had in a simple manner, ensuring that the information from the book is available to all readers regardless of their level of knowledge.
It is vital to mention that the book includes illustrations, pictures of carvings, mosaics, and sculptures, along with maps to depict some of the events Madden addresses. The use of maps is particularly significant in this case, as it helps the readers to visualize crusaders’ paths, especially considering the fact that modern countries are different from the territories of the twelfth century. For instance, each of the crusades has an associated map that illustrates the routes crusaders took. Madden provides several maps for the crusades of St. Louis, depicting the ones he did in Egypt and across the Mediterranean Sea (154;159).
In some cases, he illustrates the results of the crusades using maps. For instance, in the chapter about the Third Crusade, the author presents the image of the Near East after the conquests of Saladin, outlining the new borders (Madden 73). From this perspective, the maps included in the book are significant because they allow the reader to compare the outcomes of each crusade and estimate the potential harm it could cause.
It is also notable that Madden provides some information about each historical figure he mentions. For instance, when he introduces Frederick II, he notes that the man was the orphan son of Constance of Sicily and Emperor Henry VI, and the heir of the German Empire and Norman Sicily (Madden 137). The author helps the reader to understand some of the personal traits the historical figures he addresses had.
For example, when he describes the coronation of Frederick II, he pays attention to the emotions the young man had and the reaction of those present in the room. Madden’s words reflect that the promise Frederick II wanted to keep was unrealistic, and the audience knew about it from the start. Such a strategy of depicting characters allows the reader to understand the future actions of these individuals better and predict the outcomes of their decisions, such as an unwanted marriage, mentioned above. This way, when introducing Frederick as a person breaking his promises, the author shows the audience that he might be an unreliable individual, which partially led to the failure of the Fifth Crusade.
Madden also offers a glossary of the terms and the names of the populations mentioned in the book. He includes translations of some words, such as imam, along with information about various empires of the time, tribe names, and significant notions (Madden 212).
Such an approach is notable because it makes the book easier to read, as there are no unclear and overly complex words. Moreover, the author presents background information for the events he addresses, adding his commentary or critique on each of them. For instance, to prepare the reader for the events that happened during the Third Crusade and the people of the state were in by that time, Madden offers a short summary of the Second Crusade. He notes that the crusade was a disaster and reflects on disappointment among crusaders, especially Bernard (Madden 59).
All of the factors presented above allow Madden to illustrate his position better and help the reader to see the crusades and the events that resulted from them within a context. By adding maps, he ensures that the reader understands the effects of the crusades on various territories, as well as the ambitions of particular crusaders, such as Louis IX. Moreover, by describing the feelings the knights had, he makes it easier for the audience to imagine what it was like to participate in a crusade. At the same time, the author ensures that all historical details are included in his work, and the readers can gain a vast knowledge of the events he describes.
Contributing to the Personal Knowledge
It is possible to say that the book contributes to my knowledge of the development of Western civilization significantly. First, it addresses the true motivations of crusaders, which had not been clear to me before. The Concise History of the Crusades reveals the significance of Christianity and religion in general for the development of the region, and the important role it played for the populations of medieval times.
It was surprising to me that crusaders’ actions were driven by religious causes primarily, as I had perceived crusades as mostly violent events before studying the topic. Second, the book shows that crusades were crucial as a linking part between medieval and modern Europe. Crusaders helped the westerners to learn about other lands they had not seen before. Moreover, they ensured that the cultures could learn from each other’s experiences.
One of the things that should be noted about the book is that, in general, the book offers a different view on the development of Western civilization due to the approach Madden uses in describing crusades. The author does not perceive crusades as the “centers of colonial exploitation”; he does not view them as evil (200). Instead, Madden has helped me to understand the inner mechanisms of the crusades and their significance for Western civilization.
The book has shown me that there is a potential gap between the public perception of crusades and the historical understanding them. For instance, the book shows that many modern scholars believe that some governments’ actions of the West resemble those medieval crusaders made (Madden 7). At the same time, they fail to realize that such an understanding of the purposes of crusading and the circumstances in which they took place in medieval times.
One of the other ideas that I have learned from the book is that crusades had long-term effects on Western civilization, as opposed to having an insignificant impact on it. For instance, it was interesting to learn that crusades have affected the development of Islam and slowed it down, minimizing the Muslim threat and helping the West to win some time. The book has helped me to identify that the presence of crusades in the Near East destabilized Muslim power, although crusaders failed to divert sources to their defense (Madden 208). Before reading the book, I had not realized that although crusaders did not aim at defending other populations, they protected the West from the possible threat from the East.
It is vital to mention that the author’s work has helped me to learn that the crusades were highly significant for the development of Western civilization from the political and economic perspectives, too. Besides the factors mentioned above, they have contributed to the separation between the Western and Eastern Christendom. To me, this fact was surprising, as I had not known that crusades were associated with religious movements to this level.
Moreover, crusaders were present in many separate nations of Europe, which means that the populations of medieval times had moral unity and potentially affected the further development of the Western civilization, too. The fact that crusades prolonged the life of the Byzantine Empire has affected the future of the civilization as well. The book has helped me to learn how crusades protected the Byzantine Empire from the Arabs and the Turks, which would have been potentially damaged earlier without them.
In summary, I can say that the book has shown me many of the processes involved in crusading, including the religious motivations crusaders had and their desire to defend the Christian East. I have learned that some of the aspects pertinent to the development of the Western civilization have been present thanks to crusades, including the alienation of Western and Eastern Christendom. Moreover, Madden’s work has allowed me to look at crusades from a different perspective, seeing crusaders as the people wanting to defend their culture and their way of living. It has shown me that the development of European political perspectives in Europe contradicted the values medieval crusaders had, which resulted in the elimination of this notion as a whole.
The report shows that The Concise History of the Crusades is a notable work that offers significant insights and non-conventional perspectives on crusades. The paper shows that Madden’s perspectives are, at times, different from the ones modern scholars have. He presents an alternative viewpoint on the motivations crusaders had and the causes of tension between the Muslim Middle East and the Christian West.
In his book, Madden addresses five significant crusades, along with the ones done by Frederick II, King Louis IX, and other notable historical figures. Moreover, the author notes that individuals resolved domestic issues through crusades, too. Madden uses illustrations, pictures, and maps to help the reader to understand his points and crusaders’ routes. He pays significant attention to addressing the feelings and challenges crusaders had, helping the audience to understand their motives and circumstances they lived in better.
The book has allowed me to learn much not only about the crusades but the impact they have had on the development of Western Civilization. Madden’s book reveals that, without crusading, the Eastern and Western Christendom could possibly remain whole, and that the Byzantine Empire could fall earlier than it did. Moreover, The Concise History of the Crusades has shown me that religion was one of the most significant motivations crusaders had and that economic intestines were not relevant for them due to significant risks associated with crusading. All in all, the book presented several perspectives that many scholars oppose or do not consider, which contributed to my knowledge significantly.
Madden, Thomas F. The Concise History of the Crusades. 3rd ed., Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2013.