The best books about the cultural impact of the crusades, rather than just the battles

Aleksander Pluskowski Author Of The Archaeology of the Prussian Crusade: Holy War and Colonisation
By Aleksander Pluskowski

Who am I?

I was born in London, but growing up in a Polish family ensured that I was well aware of the history of the Teutonic Order. As a post-doctoral researcher in Cambridge, I was fortunate enough to gain access to archaeological material from the magnificent castle at Malbork in north Poland, the Order’s medieval headquarters. That moment really spurred my interest in the Northern Crusades, after which I spent a decade working across the eastern Baltic. I’ve also had the opportunity to excavate medieval frontier sites at both ends of the Mediterranean. As an archaeologist, I always found the lived experiences of these societies far more interesting than the traditional military histories written about them.


I wrote...

Book cover of The Archaeology of the Prussian Crusade: Holy War and Colonisation

What is my book about?

The Archaeology of the Prussian Crusade, now in its second edition, explores the artefacts, buildings, settlements, and landscapes of the crusades against the Prussian tribes in the 13th century, and the resulting hybrid society created by the Teutonic Order which endured into the 16th century. This remains the first synthetic work on this topic in any language and is intended as a comprehensive introduction to the medieval archaeology of northern Poland, the Russian Kaliningrad Oblast, and western Lithuania. It considers pre-Crusade culture, then the castles, towns, and countryside of the Teutonic Order’s theocratic state, the proliferation of Christianity, the impact of the Reformation, and concludes with how the monuments of medieval Prussia were reimagined in the modern world, particularly within the context of Polish culture.

The books I picked & why

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The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change, 950-1350

By Robert Bartlett,

Book cover of The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change, 950-1350

Why this book?

This captivating book, with its broad vision, puts the crusades in context in a way that no other has done. Bartlett’s magisterial overview of the expansion of Latin Christendom remains the most engaging work on how conquest, migration, and religion transformed and laid the foundations for the Europe we know today. Erudite, scholarly, and packed with detail, but also accessible and enjoyable, his thematic approach pulls together examples from diverse regions to make a compelling (and at times controversial) case for how a shared European culture was created as the bounds of Christendom were pushed in all directions. It’s an essential introduction to medieval Europe’s frontier societies–several of which were shaped by crusading.

The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change, 950-1350

By Robert Bartlett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Making of Europe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From our twentieth-century perspective, we tend to think of the Europe of the past as a colonizer, a series of empires that conquered lands beyond their borders and forced European cultural values on other peoples. This provocative book shows that Europe in the Middle Ages was as much a product of a process of conquest and colonization as it was later a colonizer.

Crusader Archaeology: The Material Culture of the Latin East

By Adrian J. Boas,

Book cover of Crusader Archaeology: The Material Culture of the Latin East

Why this book?

I remember picking this book up at a conference when I was a doctoral student, and it ignited a passion that has come to define my career. I had previously seen the crusades as dry, tedious lists of battles and military campaigns, but Adrian’s book opened new doors to understanding the societies created by the crusading movement in the Levant. Now in its second edition, this impressive volume remains the go-to work for the flourishing archaeology of the crusader states. Everything from ceramics and coins, to tombs, houses, churches, monasteries, castles, towns, farms, and industrial installations is covered. I have taught the archaeology of crusading for many years, and this book has always been at the top of my reading lists. It also inspired me to write my own book on Prussia.

Crusader Archaeology: The Material Culture of the Latin East

By Adrian J. Boas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Crusader Archaeology as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Crusader Archaeology examines what life was like for European settlers in the Latin East and how they were influenced by their new-found neighbours. Incorporating recent excavation results and the latest research, this new edition updates the only detailed study of the material culture of the Frankish settlers in Israel, Cyprus, Syria and Jordan. Adrian Boas provides comprehensive coverage of the key topics connected to crusader archaeology, including an examination of urban and rural settlements, agriculture, industry, the military, the church, public and private architecture, arts and crafts, leisure pursuits, death and burial and building techniques. There are also entirely new…


From Muslim Fortress to Christian Castle: Social and Cultural Change in Medieval Spain

By Thomas F. Glick,

Book cover of From Muslim Fortress to Christian Castle: Social and Cultural Change in Medieval Spain

Why this book?

When visiting the spectacular medieval monuments of Spain and Portugal that emblematize centuries of Islamic and Christian rule, it is impossible to ignore their surrounding landscapes, often dramatic, always thought-provoking. They remain powerful inspirations for my own work, and Thomas Glick’s wide-ranging book, which spans the entirety of the Iberian Middle Ages, stands out as a landmark of Anglophone scholarship on medieval Spain which uses the landscape as a fundamental lens on cultural change. He elegantly blends archaeological and geographic evidence with written sources to place the transformation of the landscapes of al-Andalus at the heart of understanding the implications of Christian ‘feudal’ rule. Whilst our knowledge of both Islamic and Christian cultural landscapes has advanced since this book was published, it remains a bold and thoughtful overview.

From Muslim Fortress to Christian Castle: Social and Cultural Change in Medieval Spain

By Thomas F. Glick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From Muslim Fortress to Christian Castle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This analysis of early Spanish history draws on a wide range of sources, archaeological as well as written. Thomas F. Glick explores the history of Spain from the Roman province, through the Visigothic and Arab Conquests, to the Christian Reconquest and reorganization of society in the 13th century. The author argues that three key transitions took place in culture and landscape: the development of castles which marked the move from the Spanish "dark" to "middle" age, the transition to feudalism, and finally the transition from Islamic to Christian Spain as a result of the Reconquest. He shows how these transitions…

Montaillou: Cathars and Catholics in a French Village 1294-1324

By Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Barbara Bray (translator),

Book cover of Montaillou: Cathars and Catholics in a French Village 1294-1324

Why this book?

I came across this book as an undergraduate student and was immediately hooked. Le Roy Ladurie’s classic work has captivated readers since its initial publication in 1975 and inspired a generation of medievalists. Its subject is a small village in the eastern Pyrenees several decades after the Albigensian Crusade, which saw the region incorporated into the Kingdom of France and the appointment of inquisitors to eradicate the remnants of the Cathar heresy. Virtually every inhabitant of Montaillou over the age of 12 was arrested and hauled up in front of Jacques Fournier, whose persistent interrogations and cross-examinations in his search for heretics left an invaluable historical document. From this Ladurie wove a remarkable story of village life, a fascinating glimpse into a remote frontier community with diverging Christian beliefs, where the cataclysmic events of the Crusade cast a long shadow. 

Montaillou: Cathars and Catholics in a French Village 1294-1324

By Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Barbara Bray (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Montaillou as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

APPEARS UNREAD. Hardcover with slipcase. Slipcase shows minimal shelving wear, binding is very slightly pulling away from the spine, otherwise an UNBLEMISHED copy.

Studies into the Balts' Sacred Places

By Vykintas Vaitkevičius,

Book cover of Studies into the Balts' Sacred Places

Why this book?

Despite its somewhat unassuming title and cover, this book remains one of the most accessible and interesting studies of native spirituality in the eastern Baltic written in English. Before the crusades that forged Catholic Livonia and Prussia, the natural world was imbued with religious meanings, and trees, rocks, hills, rivers, and lakes were foci of cult activity. Once Christianity was introduced, many of these sacred natural places endured and were recorded in later sources, echoing down the centuries. Vykintas Vaitkevičius, an archaeologist and one of the foremost Lithuanian scholars of Baltic ‘paganism,’ pulls together an incredible compendium of information drawn from historical documents, cartography, archaeology, and folklore, and paints a regionally varied picture of native sacrality across the historical territories of the Balts. 

Studies into the Balts' Sacred Places

By Vykintas Vaitkevičius,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Studies into the Balts' Sacred Places as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The sacred places of the Balts of Lithuania take the form of sites and monuments that are shrouded in myths and legends. This study is based on an analysis of 1200 examples and, although very few have been investigated archaeologically, Vykintas Vaitkevicius looks at the historical, linguistic, ethnological and folklore data associated with them. The places are classified according to type, whether sacred hills, islands, hillforts/temples, fields, forests and groves, oak trees, stones, sacred waters or caves, and studied for the information they contain about Balts religion and society. With much of the evidence dating from the mid-1st millennium to…

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