The Crusades by Michael Paine


The Crusades look at the creation of the kingdom of Jerusalem and the other crusader states and their struggle to survive. It also looks at the successes and failures of the Third Crusade and at the legendary figures of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. It is a fascinating overview of one of the great unifying, and dis-unifying, forces of medieval Christendom.

Paine begins his journey at the end with an in-depth look at the last crusade. He ties in modern day anti Islamic American sentiments for impact. “This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while,” President Bush said after September 11th, but Paine uses this quote to show the misuse of the word crusade. Paine believes that historically, the word crusade defined a “historical trauma” for the Muslim people (Paine 9) and while crusade also means “an organized campaign for a deserved change,” we must be careful in the context in which we use it (Paine 12). Paine automatically takes a stance on the use of the word crusade and argues that when President Bush called for one against terrorism he as referring to a campaign for necessary change.


The crusades marked an important era in the age of expanding Europe. Much of the economic benefits of the crusades can be seen in the upstart of the Italian Renaissance (Paine 1). Paine takes time and discusses why the crusades are still of interest today. He believes that they are so intriguing to the modern world because they were based on segregation, and while other crusades or wars achieved assimilation, the crusaders never managed to merge peacefully. He begins in 1095 when the first Crusade was set in motion by Pope Urban II and traces the chronology of the Crusades highlighting the most important figures on all sides of the conflicts.

The Crusades is broken down into four major sections: The First and Second Crusade, The Third and Fourth Crusade, The later Crusades, and the Fall of Acre and Afterwards. Paine does preface the specific crusades with an overview on the Islamic world and the East. There is also an extensive explanation on whom the Byzantines were and why the Muslim forces were wary of them. While mentioning the importance of the control of Jerusalem, Paine says, “Jerusalem remained under Islamic control and had done so ever since its first surrender to the Caliph Omar in 638 AD (Paine 24).”The significance of this creates reason for the continuation of the book.

There are several points during the Islamic world section of The Crusades that reinforce facts learned during class discussion. Paine spends ample time explaining the ahl al kitab, or people of the book, and their significance in the Muslim world. He also reinforces the similarities between the three religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and their ties to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Paine also takes time to explain the jizyah, or tax on non-Muslims (Paine 24).

According to Paine, factionalism plays a large role in the Crusades, solely on the part of the Muslims. He claims that, “Islam’s great strength in its early period of conquest had been its unity and shared beliefs, a shared culture. Now different communities within it had their own interests to promote and protect.”(Paine 25). One example of this is the Abbasids who held Islamic power in the East and were opposed by the Fatimids who held power in Maghrib (Paine 24).

The breakdown of the crusades into the First and Second, Third and Fourth, the Later crusades and the Fall of Acre is an interesting concept explored in The Crusades. The sections are written in a pedestrian style so that any reader can fully understand the battles and significance of each. The First and Second crusade are ordered chronologically and specific to date. “On Tuesday 27 November 1095, before a rapt and huge crowd outside the city of Clermont, Pope Urban II commenced to call to arms. (Paine 33).” Paine interjects his chronology frequently to assert a historical problem that plagued both sides of the crusades. He talks about disease and how it affected the Europeans more so than the Muslims. Plague and Typhoid seemed to ravage The Europeans and even inflicted senior members of the crusades such as Adhemar of Montel, who was Urbans representative (Paine 43).

Paine also uses the First and Second Crusades to reflect on the importance of Jerusalem. The Crusaders, the Europeans, felt as though they had accomplished something spectacular by liberating the Holy City. Some felt the need to stay there and others wanted to return to Europe to seek fame (Paine 49). It was the capturing of the city that allowed them to feel successful. Paine tells the story without bias towards one side or the other, he simply states the facts to the reader. “What the forces of Islam needed was a leader they could get behind, a heroic figure who could unite them (Paine 69).”

What was most helpful in The Crusades was the section on the Third and Fourth Crusade. Paine spent a lot of time here explaining the importance of Saladin, where he came from, and why people followed his rule. Saladin was a wise and manipulative ruler who achieved success through cunning. Saladin played a large role in the retaking of Jerusalem and in the battles surrounding the city. Paine hails Saladin as the “greatest figure to take the field against the foreign invaders.” His leadership unified Muslims for a time, but after his death, they were beset by infighting. He abhorred crusaders and it was his mission to launch a jihad against them. Paine superbly described Saladin’s campaign against the crusaders. “In 1187 Jerusalem fell to Saladin (Paine 86).” But Paine also allows the reader to linger over the ramifications of his siege. “More and more refugees made their way to the coast, looking for, at best, and a passage out, at worst aware that the great coastal fortresses like Tyre were their last hope (Paine 86).

What Pain’s The Crusades achieves is a vivid account of a tumultuous time period. The Crusades emphasize a period of expansion, but more so a distinct dislike to religious differences. The Crusades mark the end of religious tolerance and the beginning of Middle Eastern discrimination. Paine demonstrates this, “God’ own sling was already engaged in pounding the Muslim wall. The addition of the evil neighbor would further interrupt their already troubled sleep (Paine 90).”

Eventually Paine is able to conclude that somewhere between the Third and Fourth Crusade, the mission of what either side had started with, had been forgotten. The battles became no longer about the capture of Jerusalem and the fervor that had initiated the preceding crusades had dissipated. “It soon descended into an opportunity to deal with those vile heretics in Constantinople (Paine 97).”

As Paine begins to delve into the latter crusades, the heart of the battles becomes a distant memory. Once again, Muslim factions were at the root of the problems plaguing the wars. Islam was too divided to properly repel crusaders. But the factionalism has resonated with Christians as well. The crusaders were not as united as they had once been. Individual European countries began to take shape and Islam, for all of its problems, began to hold fast to their territory because the crusaders were paying more attention to their own land and burgeoning unification. Death and disease took over and the overall desire of the crusaders seemed to wane. “Damietta was not to fall until November 1219, when the crusaders broke in to find a community wasted by disease and death, beyond this, little was achieved (Paine 111).”

What Paine emphasizes throughout the Crusades are the economical burdens both sides involved incurred. The Italian city-states benefited from the trade sparked by the Crusades, and the Ottoman Turks arose from the rubble to form a mighty empire.

The friction between Christianity and Islam that developed during the crusades and the time of European expansion managed to grow and expand throughout time. The institution and implementation of the state of Israel did not help ease the tension (Paine 14). What Paine lacked throughout the Crusades were accounts through Arab eyes. This short account lacks the nuance with which many scholars have treated the subject and readers will find very little on the plethora of causes and controversies that plagued the holy wars. Paine also does not go into detail on anything regarding the elaborate mythology and works of art and propaganda that the crusades inspired. The book is also hurt by its lack of clear maps and illustrations.

The Crusades, by Michael Paine, was a helpful tool in bringing the basic information of the crusades to the average person. He was able to write simplistically and allow the reader to understand both sides of the fighting. The book was short and to the point and was not bias towards one side or the other. Paine also tried to tie together the problems that today’s society encounters regarding Islam, terrorism and the discriminatory nature of Christianity towards the Middle East.

The Crusades by Michael Paine


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