This helps to spark the question of why people would leave their homes and their families to risk their lives invading a land that was thousands of miles away for religious reasons. In his book, Riley-Smith makes this era come alive for the modern reader. He does a very good job of leaving it up to the reader to decide and interpret the material how they wish. He seems to have no bias. Johnathan Riley-Smith begins with the birth of the crusading movement and the ideas that led to the actual crusades.
The background information about the beliefs of these societies and foundations of their pasts help the reader to understand why they believed the way that they did. He proceeds chronologically through ten chapters to the “Old Age and Death of the Crusading Movement,” which occurred between 1523 and 1798. Riley-Smith shows how the violence of the Crusades was justified according to the beliefs of that era. The people of that era compared this military action in terms of the intentions involved.
Almost, in a manner comparable to that of a surgeon who causes pain to a patient in order to save a life. But, also, he shows how the crusaders understood the topic of authority and politics. This involved viewing the Holy Land as an “earthly extension to Christ’s universal empire,” which meant that, to them, the Holy Land was Christ’s “royal domain or patrimony”. Many scholars now tend to interpret the Crusades with modern ideology, concentrating on factors that relate to establishment, economics, politics, colonization, etc. Riley-Smith explains the viewpoint of the massive majority of crusaders, showing that it was religious fervor and absolute devotion to the Roman Catholic Church, which was largely connected and entangled with their past history and then became their bias that provided the motivation that caused the Crusades. Therefore, he shows how the conflicting nature of the Crusades came about. For example, invading and killing a land’s people in the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. The first chapter offers necessary background information to understanding the roots of the crusade movement.
Riley-Smith sets the stage for the account of the First Crusade, which is the topic for the second chapter, beginning with the call of Pope Urban II to retake Jerusalem along with a bit of political backing. The third chapter describes the office of the patriarch that existed in both Jerusalem and Antioch. Chapter four discusses the settlement, control and defense of the Latin East that existed between 1097 and 1187. Chapter five talks about the early crusades of the twelfth century and the Second Crusade.
Chapter six contains the Third, Fourth and Fifth Crusades, which occurred between 1187 and 1229. Chapter seven covers the years 1229 through roughly 1291. Chapter eight describes the Latin East briefly, and chapter nine also offers an overview, which discusses the diversity of the crusades that occurred between 1291 and 1523. The book ends with chapter ten, which discusses the crusading movement in its “old age,” which includes the topics of the Reformation, the military orders, and the Hospitallers of St. John and Malta.
The Conclusion describes how the Crusades have been understood in different historical eras. In addition to these topics, Riley-Smith also offers descriptions of the several other Christian military operations, which were instigated against the pagan peoples who lived in northern Europe, as well as against the “heretics” living in the south of France and the Muslims living in Spain. I actually enjoyed this depiction of the Crusades. Even though I first had to make sure that I had a dictionary handy when I read it, I thought that Riley-Smith made it very easy to understand.
He sentences flowed very well and I liked the fact that he left everything chronologically in order and didn’t go back and forth multiple times. The chapters were well titled for any reader to understand what was in the material. I also enjoyed the fact that they weren’t incredibly long and repetitive. I think that this book taught me way more about the Crusades than I ever knew before. I had no idea that it was all mainly started for religious reasons. The pasts of one group of people who had never even been to Jerusalem or even seen it, helped to build the foundation of the entire movement.
It just is astonishing to me that all of those years of fighting was being justified by Jesus Christ. I don’t think that fighting for something you believe in is wrong, I just didn’t really know how the Crusades were started. I thought that Johnathan Riley-Smith seemed to show no bias towards any certain points of view when it came to this book. I thought that would be very difficult once I started reading and saw that it was about Christianity, one of the biggest religions in the world.
Everyone is bias when it comes to religion so for him to go through the whole book and history of the Crusades without sounding “preachy” I thought was an accomplishment in itself. I questioned multiple parts of this book though just because I know that even though it started for “religious gain” I still think that it did in the end become more of a fight for control of land and power. I think that Riley-Smith is very honest but it this book is still so broad that it leaves a lot for the reader to decipher and decide what really happened.
In all the research that I did though in to the history of the crusades and Riley-Smith himself, I do think that he gives the most honest representation of the crusades that I have ever seen to date. Like I said, up until now all the books I have read or movies I have seen, I never knew that the crusades was founded on the ideas of Christianity. There are parts that I would like to even go back and read again. I think that he does a fantastic job to keep the history interesting as well as making it easy to read.
Johnathan Riley-Smith, I think, is a very knowledgeable historian who would be a very good source for information on this subject. I think that his book worth even using in a class for some sort of project or even a text book. He doesn’t make it incredibly dry, boring, and you want to go to sleep in ten minutes like our text book does to me sometimes. I would recommend this book for anyone who would have to ever do a paper or any type of school work on the crusades. I enjoyed this book very much.