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Authors: Jay Rubenstein

Armies of Heaven

BOOK: Armies of Heaven
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Table of Contents
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
More Advance Praise for
Armies of Heaven
“Rubenstein's book is a thrill to the casual reader and to the scholar alike. His prose carries the reader along with the extraordinary events of the First Crusade, effortlessly integrating the bloody realities of the battlefield, astute portraits of the leaders, and a convincing historical argument about the nature of the First Crusade.
Armies of Heaven
shows how easily piety, violence, and political scheming intermesh, but also warns against facile comparisons of medieval crusades to contemporary conflicts, the rhetoric of al-Qaeda notwithstanding. Steven Runciman's account of the First Crusade provided a standard of eloquence for the last fifty years; Jay Rubenstein's matches Runciman for style, and surpasses with a discerning eye and a sly but scathing wit.”
—Christopher MacEvitt, author of
Crusades and the
Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance
 
 
“The First Crusade has been a source of fascination from the late eleventh century down to the present. Recent historians have analyzed this epochal event in terms of demography, economics, secular politics, ecclesiastical politics, and ecclesiastical theory. Jay Rubenstein asks a refreshing question: How did the thousands and tens of thousands who joined the sacred undertaking view it? His fascinating answer is that most of these crusaders were convinced that they were living at the cusp of the end of days, at the point in time when the world order would change dramatically. Rubenstein's insights will profoundly enrich our understanding of the First Crusade, its glories, and its horrors.”
—Robert Chazan, New York University
This book is for Meredith
 
The world of the First Crusade
Introduction
I
n 1096 approximately 100,000people—warriors, priests, women, poor folk, bishops, prophets, and a few children—left homes in France, Italy, and Germany and marched to Jerusalem. They intended to worship at Christ's tomb and, in the process, to reclaim the city for the Christian world. Three years later, on July 15, 1099, a fraction of that group broke through Jerusalem's defenses, killed the city's garrison and residents, and transformed the ancient Middle Eastern city into the capital of a European principality. This long campaign became known as the First Crusade. Contemporaries, not realizing that it would be the first of several such expeditions and not yet having invented the word “crusade,” simply called it “the pilgrimage” or “the movement.” Sensing its importance, they began documenting it almost immediately, in part to celebrate the army's achievement but also to try to understand it. Something profoundly important had happened, not just in the history of Europe or even in the history of the world. It was a new phase in God's plan. At the very least, the armies had set in motion events prophesied for centuries. The work begun with Christ's crucifixion a millennium earlier might now be drawing to a close, the apocalyptic clock started due to the actions of modern men.
1
Even with centuries of hindsight, this sense of cataclysmic upheaval seems appropriate. Most immediately, the crusade led to the creation of French-speaking settlements in the Middle East, governments that would endure in some form for nearly two centuries. Because of the crusade, Western Europeans grew more familiar with Greek civilization and came
into closer contact with Arab civilization than ever before. The crusade also fostered the development of military technology, such that war at home and abroad occurred on a scale previously unimaginable. War also became an honorable profession. Prior to the crusade, violence on the battlefield was a sinful act, as it would be in any other setting. Now warriors had the option of practicing their art while adding to their store of virtues—not in spite of their brutality but because of it.
More fundamentally, the crusade helped to fashion a broader sense of Christian identity in an otherwise divided European homeland. Pilgrims came from different cultures and spoke different languages—German, Flemish, Norman, French, Provençal, and Italian—but their shared experiences instilled in them a common identity: Now all were Franks. The most frequent title for contemporary histories of the era celebrated this new sense of brotherhood:
Deeds of the Franks
or, as one historian preferred,
God's Deeds Through the Franks.
It would be no exaggeration to say that the economy, spirituality, technology, and morality—the foundations of Western culture—would be remade because of the First Crusade.
But even this list of historical transformations fails to capture how precisely apocalyptic the First Crusade was, both for the people who marched to Jerusalem and for those who stayed home and celebrated. In the 1090s, as far as anyone could tell, God (or Satan) had loosed Antichrist on the world. The armies of Gog and Magog had broken through the gates behind which Alexander the Great had imprisoned them. And Christian armies were preparing to make a stand at Jerusalem, to fight around Mount Calvary, where Christ had died, and before the Mount of Olives, where He would soon return—not merely to follow in the footsteps of saints but to wield swords alongside them in battles against a demonic foe. When Jerusalem fell to the Franks and when Christ did not appear, apocalyptic enthusiasm did not die. Rather, historians in Europe and in the Middle East continued to write books about the crusade for decades, asking not just whether the end of the world was nigh. They wondered instead, had the Apocalypse already happened?
This book will retell these tales of Jerusalem's conquest and the apocalypse that accompanied it. The former story, the military history, has been written often and well. But it has not been told in a way that engages the
grand ideas behind the First Crusade—the beliefs that helped to create it and that helped to drive the armies forward toward their goal.
BOOK: Armies of Heaven
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