How should we read the Crusades? The question begs a host of others, not least how do we read them, in the light of how we have read them in the past.
On 13 April 1204 the western or Latin armies participating in the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium. The approaching 800th anniversary of that event has generated renewed interest in the background, context and impact of that crusade, expressed in several new studies and in conferences.
The History of George Akropolites describes an exceptional period in Byzantine history, between the loss of Constantinople to the forces of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and the reconquest of the city by Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1261.
The first, main title of this volume might seem to promise too little or too much—either a very superficial work of generalization, or a heterogeneous assortment of broadly grouped pieces too diverse and disparate to cohere.
Fighting for the Cross introduces the subject of crusading by exploring the experiences and ideas of individual crusaders travelling to the Holy Land between 1095 and 1291.
Agatha Christie’s 1970 novel Passenger to Frankfurt might seem like an unusual place to start a history of the Children’s Crusade in 1212. To capture the radical youth-culture of the 1960s lying at the heart of her plot, Christie invoked the Children’s Crusade as a familiar symbol of misguided and ultimately dangerous youthful folly.
Whom would one choose as a companion to Byzantium? Many might ask for Michael Psellos, the 11th-century polymath who appears in nine of this volume's 27 chapters. A measure of the distance Byzantine studies has travelled in recent decades, but also of how far it has still to go, is the publication of editions and translations of Psellos' many surviving works.
As the editor notes in his introduction to this collection, the events of 2001 and after have created intense interest in the Crusades and the conflict between Christianity and Islam and the West in the Middle Ages. A wealth of publications has appeared from popular histories to detailed articles in academic journals.
This is a monster of a book. It must be the most detailed assessment of the fall of Constantinople in 1453 that there has ever been. It subjects the scholarly literature devoted to the subject over the last century-and-a-half to a searching scrutiny.