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This Should Make for Some Interesting Dinner Conversations

Rodney Stark’s latest book is called God’s Batallions: The Case for the Crusades. According to the Baptist Standard,

Stark balks at the theory, in vogue 30 years ago, that the Crusades were spurred on by the promise of wealth and land. The Crusades were bloody expensive, he argues, and far from being a profitable, colonial enterprise, they made paupers of princes.

Thomas Madden, professor of medieval history at Saint Louis University, agrees that recent analysis reveals the “crusades were a big money pit.” He said it is important to understand the crusaders on their own terms, and like Stark, he sees faith as their primary motivator.

He also makes the case that the Crusades were a defensive military action against a centuries-long Muslim imperialist expansion. In other words, after Muslim incursions into traditionally “Christian” lands like Syria (637, with the fall of Jerusalem in 638), Egypt (639), North Africa (665), Spain (711), southern France (732), Sicily (826), southern Italy (827—sacking Rome in 846), Crete (840), Cilicia (961), Cyprus (965), and ultimately all of Anatolia (1071), the military option seemed to be the only viable course of action. I don’t know of Stark’s book deals as well with the Spanish Reconquista (722–1238, but only finally ending with the recapture of Granada in 1492), Robert Guiscard’s recapture of Calabria in 1057, or the efforts of maritime states like Genoa in combatting Muslim raids along the Mediterranean coast, but those events would certainly help to put the Crusades in their historical context.

I’m sure Stark’s book will be met with wildly different reactions, which will be very good for him and therefore probably for Baylor University.

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1 Comment

  1. Scott F says:

    The fact that the Crusades were a financial flop (to the delight of the Pope?) does not preclude the possibility that the participants PERCEIVED the enterprise as a chance for loot, glory or land. The fact that they established a kingdom in the Holy land ought to count to for something.

    In the end, the idea that crusaders were motivated primarily by Faith is as simplistic as the idea that they were solely seeking new realms to conquer.

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