After languishing for long years in a post-Enlightenment intellectual backwater of fabrication, speculation, and distortion, the historical Crusades of the High Middle Ages began to attract serious scholarly attention in the nineteenth century. Continuing into the twentieth, these early efforts to gain a fresh understanding effectively culminated with Sir Steven Runciman’s A History of the Crusades, first published 1951-54, in three volumes. For four decades following, A History of the Crusades served as the standard Crusades reference for students, professors, and the reading public.
Beginning in the 1970s, a new generation of Crusades scholars and students had begun to supplant the previous, and, along with them, came a new effort to understand and interpret the Crusades strictly within their medieval context. Though questions raised concerning the thoroughness of Runciman’s research and of his personal biases have proven his conclusions, for the much larger part, inaccurate and outdated in the light of present knowledge and continuing research, A History of the Crusades yet commands a wide readership, and has continued to contribute to common myths prevalent today.
Now, sixty-five years after the release of A History of the Crusades, and fifteen years after the devastating terrorist attack of September 9, 2001, the historical Crusades are indeed a hot topic, and myths about these long-ago wars abound. A casual session of ‘net-surfing’ will reveal a bewildering number of articles and web pages devoted to the Crusades. A scant few are scholarly, unbiased, and well-managed; the majority, at best sloppily mediocre; at worst, wildly biased and dedicated to political and religious agendas venturing into the fanatical.
Myths about the Crusades and the medieval era are topics often raised on these internet pages, and the answers provided range from the carefully-researched and cited to, much more frequently, a single author’s personal, uniformed opinions. Thankfully, Seven Myths of the Crusades has come at a time when most needed, as a long overdue collection of careful analyses and commentaries that address prevalent and destructive myths, written by the best of the mature new generation of Crusades scholars. Unlike internet sources, even the best, usually brief, the authors represented in Seven Myths meticulously deconstruct common falsehoods, and, referencing primary and a wide variety of secondary sources, reconstruct the truths underlying the myths with challenging evidence and scholarly argumentation. The introduction provides a short yet ample history of Crusades scholarship; this, the theses following, and the conclusion are accompanied by numerous footnotes that precisely inform the text. The many volumes and sources included in the list of suggested reading are carefully chosen, and conveniently divided into categories of general and special interest.
Seven Myths can be confidently added to Crusades literature which is scholarly yet accessible and pleasurably readable, and not of daunting length. Read accompanying Thomas Madden’s A New Concise History of the Crusades and Jonathan Riley-Smith’s What Were the Crusades?, readers new to Crusades history will gain a solid foundation from which to further explore this vast subject. The more seasoned will find in Seven Myths a fresh, fascinating perspective and a comprehensive basis for refutation of the ignorance so pervasive in Crusades dialogue of the present.
From Real Crusades History, a solid five stars and a hearty Deus Vult! for Seven Myths of the Crusades! ~ Scott Amis