The best books on the First Crusade

1 authors have picked their favorite books about the First Crusade and why they recommend each book.

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Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood

By Anthony Kaldellis,

Book cover of Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood: The Rise and Fall of Byzantine, 955 A.D. to the First Crusade

Both readable and minutely researched, this book analyses the reasons behind Byzantium’s sudden collapse in the mid-eleventh century. Kaldellis offers a refreshing alternative to the prevalent narrative of the achievements of Basil II being squandered by the feeble emperors who came after him. Instead, stress is laid on the problems to which the expanded borders gave rise after 1025 and the very reasonable steps taken by Basil’s successors to deal with them. He even comes to the rescue of the much-maligned Constantine IX (1042-1055), an emperor whom Psellus presents as affable and likable but a completely incompetent ruler.

Kaldellis points out how Constantine secured the frontier in Northern Syria through his treaty with the Fatimid caliph of Egypt and how his administrative reforms would have seemed sensible at the time. He drives home the lesson that it is never satisfactory to single out a few individuals to blame for a…


Who am I?

I first came across Byzantium when I read Robert Graves' Count Belisarius and studied as much of its history as I could while at King's College London. Later I taught English in Turkey and was able to visit the Byzantine sites of Istanbul, Iznik, and Cappadocia. I now teach medieval and Byzantine history at Royal Holloway, University of London. For those living outside eastern Europe and Russia, Byzantium may appear to be rather remote and exotic: that is part of its appeal! But just because it is strange and different does not mean that we should not try to understand it on its own terms. That is what I have tried to do in my books and teaching.


I wrote...

Byzantium and the Crusades

By Jonathan Harris,

Book cover of Byzantium and the Crusades

What is my book about?

In the early eleventh century CE, Byzantium was a great military and economic power and its capital city of Constantinople was famed for its size and wealth. But in the decades that followed it faltered and, by 1081, it had lost half of its territory to the Turks. There was a threat from the west too. Although the First Crusade was launched in 1095 to help the Byzantines against the Turks, in 1204 the Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople and Byzantium was partitioned.

My book focuses on Byzantine relations with the crusades and argues that the disaster of 1204 came about partly as a result of policies pursued by the Byzantines themselves and partly because crusade leaders had come to see Byzantium as a source of money and supplies to bolster the effort to keep Jerusalem in Christian hands.

Victory in the East

By John France,

Book cover of Victory in the East: A Military History of the First Crusade

This book brought home to me just how much the victory of the crusaders on the First Crusade was an astonishing and unlikely military feat. John France shows how it was achieved stage by bloody stage, discussing strategy, tactics, leadership, battles, and sieges, while also focusing on the central role played by careful logistics. Throughout I was struck by the incredible tenacity of the crusaders and the terrible deprivations and losses that they had to endure. An absorbing and authoritative account of a truly epic campaign of loss and victory.

Who am I?

A boyhood fascination with knights and castles, plus the inevitable influence of Tolkien’s world, drew me into medieval history, especially its warring side. An MA and a PhD in medieval warfare consolidated my enthusiasm, with my first three books being on that topic (what I call my Blood and Guts trilogy). I remain fascinated by the all-encompassing influence of medieval warfare on society and its unforgiving impact on warriors and non-combatants alike. Writing, lecturing, and public talks on these have led me into other interesting fields, including two TV documentaries.


I wrote...

Blood Cries Afar: The Magna Carta War and the Invasion of England 1215-1217

By Sean McGlynn,

Book cover of Blood Cries Afar: The Magna Carta War and the Invasion of England 1215-1217

What is my book about?

While most people know something of King John and Magna Carta, very few have heard of the French invasion of England in 1216. Exactly 150 years after the Norman Conquest in 1066, history nearly repeated itself. French forces, under the chivalrous Prince Louis, invaded and took control of half of England. At one point some two-thirds of barons paid homage to Louis as the new ruler of the kingdom. The French remained in England for a year-and-a-half, during which time there were dramatic full-scale battles on land and at sea, with campaigning armies inflicting terrible destruction on the people of England.

Full of vivid, colourful characters, this critically acclaimed book is the first-ever study of the invasion, offering the most detailed accounts of its numerous, exciting military engagements.

A Booke of Days

By Stephen J. Rivele,

Book cover of A Booke of Days

This remarkable ‘novel’ opens (and closes) with the author being given a journal written by Roger, Duke of Lunel, ‘l’Escrivel’, from whom he claims to be descended. This diary forms the bulk of the novel, and it seems to be a translation of a real diary, an intimate and detailed account of the penitent Roger’s journey to Jerusalem in company with other pilgrims on the First Crusade. At times poetic and beautiful, Roger lays bare his innermost reflections on his faith, his sexuality, his guilty love for his friend’s wife, and his search for his soul and for redemption. In excruciating detail, we also learn of the venality, ambition, and greed of those in charge of the various crusader armies who seek power and position in their conquered territories, and the absolute brutality of the conquering crusaders who, in the name of Christ, slaughter, behead and burn all those men,…


Who am I?

I write novels for children, YA, and adults, most of which reflect my fascination with history, mystery, crime, and fantasy. I particularly enjoy writing timeslip novels, exploring how the past can inform the present and vice versa. I recently updated and revised my award-winning Shalott trilogy, which visits both the historical past and also the quasi-medieval world of Camelot in a reinterpretation of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and with reference also to The Lady of Shalott, the wonderful and mysterious poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. (A reviewer recently compared my Shalott trilogy with the novels of Diana Gabaldon = wow!)


I wrote...

Shalott: Into the Unknown

By Felicity Pulman,

Book cover of Shalott: Into the Unknown

What is my book about?

Through magic and a VR program, five teenagers set out into the unknown to change the legend of Camelot. Instead, they find they are rewriting their own lives and destiny as their true quest is revealed and they become caught up in the illicit love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere, the intrigues of the court, and the deadly magic of the ambitious Morgan le Fay and her nephew, Mordred. Are the teenagers replaying the legend—or creating it? What Callie finds in Camelot will break her heart, while her quest will change all of their lives forever.

Shalott: Into the Unknown is Book 1 of the Shalott trilogy.

The Alexiad

By Anna Komnene, E.R.A. Sewter (translator),

Book cover of The Alexiad

Anna Komnene (1083-c.1148) takes up the story where Michael Psellus left off. Like him, she was writing from inside the court: she was the daughter of Alexios I who reigned from 1081 to 1118. She gives a laudatory account of her father’s reign during which the tide of disaster was turned back and Byzantium began to recover some of the ground that it had lost. Some of the most memorable passages in The Alexiad are those that describe the passage of the First Crusade through Byzantium in 1096-7. Komnene takes a rather ambivalent tone in describing the hordes of bellicose warriors who had arrived from the west.

On the one hand, they were fellow Christians who had come to fight the common enemy, the Muslim Turks. On the other hand, might they not also constitute a threat, since they could be well tempted by the riches of Constantinople? That ambivalence…


Who am I?

I first came across Byzantium when I read Robert Graves' Count Belisarius and studied as much of its history as I could while at King's College London. Later I taught English in Turkey and was able to visit the Byzantine sites of Istanbul, Iznik, and Cappadocia. I now teach medieval and Byzantine history at Royal Holloway, University of London. For those living outside eastern Europe and Russia, Byzantium may appear to be rather remote and exotic: that is part of its appeal! But just because it is strange and different does not mean that we should not try to understand it on its own terms. That is what I have tried to do in my books and teaching.


I wrote...

Byzantium and the Crusades

By Jonathan Harris,

Book cover of Byzantium and the Crusades

What is my book about?

In the early eleventh century CE, Byzantium was a great military and economic power and its capital city of Constantinople was famed for its size and wealth. But in the decades that followed it faltered and, by 1081, it had lost half of its territory to the Turks. There was a threat from the west too. Although the First Crusade was launched in 1095 to help the Byzantines against the Turks, in 1204 the Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople and Byzantium was partitioned.

My book focuses on Byzantine relations with the crusades and argues that the disaster of 1204 came about partly as a result of policies pursued by the Byzantines themselves and partly because crusade leaders had come to see Byzantium as a source of money and supplies to bolster the effort to keep Jerusalem in Christian hands.

The Crusades and the Christian World of the East

By Christopher MacEvitt,

Book cover of The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance

There has been an explosion of interest in the Crusades since 9/11, with many medieval historians working hard to push back against over-simplified and often inaccurate depictions of Christian holy war and Christian-Muslim relations. This impressively researched book adds a fascinating new dimension to the story of the Crusades, examining relations between newly arrived European Catholics and the many and varied indigenous Levantine Christian communities in the decades following the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099. MacEvitt rejects the dominant narrative, which held that the Frankish conquerors, imbued with the rigid prejudices of an intolerant European Christendom, had little interaction with or understanding of the local populations. Instead, he paints a portrait of a surprisingly practical and flexible Crusader regime, characterized by extensive Frankish-local social, religious, and legal interactions. MacEvitt's nuanced model, which he dubs "rough tolerance," avoids both idealization and demonization, and offers a fruitful way to approach relations…

Who am I?

I was raised in a Jewish but completely secular family, with no religious traditions or affiliations. Perhaps because religion was so exotic, I have always found it fascinating. In college, I gravitated toward topics in medieval religion, which crystallized the strangeness of an era both earthy and intensely devout. I wanted to understand why an Anglo-Saxon monk sitting in a cold monastery in northern England cared so much about biblical history. Or how Saint Bernard could so relentlessly hound a fellow monk over a scholarly treatise, yet also work energetically to protect Jews from violence. I can't say I'll ever fully comprehend the force of religion, but I love trying.


I wrote...

Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography

By Sara Lipton,

Book cover of Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography

What is my book about?

In Dark Mirror I ask a simple question: why did Jews become such powerful and poisonous symbols in medieval art?

The straggly beard, the hooked nose, the bag of coins, and gaudy apparel―the artists of medieval Christendom had no shortage of virulent symbols for identifying Jews. Yet, hateful as these depictions were, the story they tell is not as simple as you might think. I argue that anti-Jewish visual stereotypes were neither an inevitable outgrowth of Christian theology nor a simple reflection of medieval prejudices. In fact, Christians used depictions of Jews to think about their own faith, culture, and perception. Changes in the way Christians viewed themselves and the physical world drove the depiction of Jews from benign, if exoticized, figures connoting ancient wisdom to increasingly vicious portrayals inspired by (and designed to provoke) fear and hostility. 

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