Armies of the Crusades
Author: Terence Wise. Illustrator: Gerry Embleton.
Published by Osprey

Book Review.

This book - the Armies of the Crusades, covers those armies which fought in the series of conflicts between 1096 and 1260 in the Holy Land, known popularly as the "Crusades". In addition the Iberian Crusades, other crusading conflicts do not come within the scope of this book such as that in the Baltics.

The contents are as follows; The Armies of Christendom;  • The Armies of Islam ; The Plates.

Essential for the understanding of the subject of the book is a necessary explanation of feudalism not only as it applied to Europe, but to the settled invasion force in the Holy Land. Terence Wise supplies this information, and this assists the reader in understanding why the Crusaders failed to hold on to the territories they had gained in 1099 and the years that followed. For example the King of Jerusalem had been elected and thus his Barons were co-equal. This affected any coercion for assistance.
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Other Crusader States created by the Frankish invaders were independent. Feudalism and the ability to create fiefs depended upon land, a limited resource in the Outremer (Holy Land) and the Crusader States had to rely upon "money fiefs" as a means of dealing with the situation.(page 7).

The book provides details on the volunteer army which set out on the first Crusade, with an attempt to guess the true figure of the combatants at 150,000. The larger numbers quoted elsewhere will include wives and children, camp followers and pilgrims. Then covered are the armies of the Outremer, the contribution of the Military Orders, the Iberian armies, and the contribution of the Byzantine army often neglected by books and articles covering the Crusades. The author points out that the Byzantine army "had been 'crusading' against Islam since the 8th Century" (page 16).

Also often neglected in an assessment of the crusades in popularist accounts are details of the armies of Islam. The author provides details of; the Abbasid armies, the Moorish armies, the Seljuk armies, the Fatimid armies, the Ayyubid armies, and the Mamluk armies .

8 Coloured plates are provided which cover further historic detail. The book is replete throughout with greyscale illustrations and photographs.Only three pages lack an illustration!

A useful guide to the Crusades to the Holy Land is a chronology provided on pages 37 and 38. Important for all good books, and included in this one, is an Index!

The book was first published in 1978, and yet despite getting on for three decades, the text is not dated. Readers need to appreciate one fact as a warning, and that is, that the topic is complex and wide ranging. It is perhaps a slightly harder read than the book by the same publisher on the Knights of Christ and yet the author does well within the 40 pages (less illustrations = circa 20 pages of text), to cover the subject without sacrificing information for brevity. The book remains a useful introduction to the topic of the Armies of the Crusades, and is good value by price, information, illustrations, and durability (stitched pages)!

The Reverend Dr Michael Foster.
Rector Chase Benefice, Salisbury Diocese, Church of England.
Historian to the Order of Knights Hospitaller, Russian Grand Priory.

Other Osprey Reviews

Knight Hospitaller (1)  Knight Hospitaller (2)

Knight of the OutremerKnights of Christ

Created 24th May 2004
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