Fearful Symmetries

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31 October, 2011

A-Crusading We Will Go

Historian Peter Frankopan has a book due soon called The First Crusade: the Call from the East. It's being promoted as a revolutionary book as you can read at this article at The Australian. The publisher, Harvard University Press, contends that Frankopan is "countering nearly a millennium of scholarship" with his new book.

The old story supposedly goes like this: Pope Urban II decided it was high time to free Jerusalem from those dastardly Muslims 450+ years after they took it. And so in 1095 he put on his rhetorical hat and gave a speech at the Council of Clermont which urged his most beloved brethren of Western Christendom to venture east and take up his cause.

Frankopan's supposed revelation is that the First Crusade was actually more about helping out the Byzantine Alexios Komnenos who was having a hard time of things.

For Dr Frankopan, the First Crusade was therefore not a religious war, but instead a "very specific, targeted military expedition against the cities of Nicaea and Antioch", two former Byzantine possessions that the crusader army swore an oath to hand over to Alexios. Jerusalem was just a carrot.





While I'm not scholar, I am confused as to what is actually new about this idea. I've been listening to a wonderful lecture called "Era of the Crusades" by Professor Kenneth W. Harl and I'd bet a dollar to a doughnut that this notion of the First Crusade being rooted in the realpolitik of the time instead of solely being a religious endeavor wouldn't be new to him. In short, Harl says that Emperor Basil II's heirs were a bunch of fuck-ups, including Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes who got his ass stomped at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 by the Seljuk Turks. Not only that, they took him prisoner. After this, the Turks took Anatolia and Byzantium was in a bit of a pickle.

Alexios I Komnenos became emperor in 1081 and started to get the empire's shit together. However, he couldn't do everything. Ergo he appealed to Urban II for help. As Prof. Harl said, "He asked for mercenaries and he got a crusade."

And so I am not sure exactly what is new and novel about Frankopan's thesis.
|| Palmer, 3:26 PM

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