I’m a sucker for a bibliography so I’ve included the one from Sharyn Eastaugh‘s History of the Crusades.
- Thomas Asbridge The Crusades – The War for the Holy Land 2010
- Christopher Tyerman God’s War – A New History of the Crusades 2006
- Steven Runciman A History of the Crusades Vol 1-3 1951-1954
- Jonathan Phillips Holy Warriors – A Modern History of the Crusades 2009
Amin Maalouf The Crusades through Arab Eyes 1983
- Chronicles of the Crusades edited by Elizabeth Hallam 1989
- The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades edited by Jonathan Riley-Smith 1995
- Hugh Kennedy Crusader Castles 1994
- Robert Bartlett The Making of Europe – Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change 950-1350 1993
- R.H.C. Davis A History of Medieval Europe 1957
- Friedrich Heer The Medieval World – Europe from 1100 to 1350 1962
- Karen Armstrong Holy War – The Crusades and their impact on today’s world 1988
- Francesco Gabrieli Arab Historians of the Crusades 1957
- Anna Comnena The Alexiad translated by Elizabeth Dawes 2011
Tim Severin Crusader – By horse to Jerusalem 1989
- Thomas Asbridge The First Crusade – A New History 2004
- Jonathan Phillips The Second Crusade – Extending the Frontiers of Christendom 2007
- Usamah Ibn-Munqidh An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades translated by Philip Hitti 1929
- Bernard Lewis The Assassins – A Radical Sect in Islam 1967
- Marshall Hodgson The Secret order of Assassins – The Struggle of the Early Nizari Isma’ilis against the Islamic World 1955
- Medieval Isma’ili History and Thought edited by Farhad Daftary 1996
- Joshua Prawler The World of the Crusaders 1972
- R.C. Smail Crusading Warfare 1097-1193 1956
- Amy Kelly Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings 1950
- Alison Weir Eleanor of Aquitaine – by the wrath of God, Queen of England 1999
- Malcolm Cameron Lyons & D.E.P. Jackson Saladin – The Politics of Holy War 1982
- Geoffrey Hindley Saladin – Hero of Islam 1976
- Jack Weatherford Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World 2004
- Piers Paul Read The Templars 1999
- Alan Forey The Military Orders from the Twelfth to the Early Fourteenth Centuries 1992
- Colin Morris The Papal Monarchy – The Western Church from 1050 to 1250
- John Julius Norwich The Popes – A History 2012
- E.R. Chamberlin The Bad Popes 1969
- Eamon Duffy Saints and Sinners – A History of the Popes 1997
There a footnote among the discussion of the Caledonian war of Septimius Severus.
That the Caracul of Ossian is the Caracalla of the Roman History is… not without difficulty. In the Caledonian war, the son of Severus was known only by the appellation of Antoninus; and it may seem strange that the Highland bard should describe him by a nickname, invented four years afterwards, scarcely used by the Romans till after the death of that emperor, and seldom employed by the most ancient historians.
Quite. Almost as if Ossian was made up at a (much) later date.
This podcast by Tasmanian Sharyn Eastaugh started all the way back in 2012, following the model of Mike Duncan’s History of Rome. Like Mike Duncan, it’s a minimalist approach – no guests, few sound effects, no dramatisations – but with an occasional dry bit of humour to tie things together. I like this style, and I think it’s still more or less the standard for history podcasts – although 2012 could be a little more rough and ready.
Some running jokes about the ever present Peter the Hermit or Crusading knights descended from water fairies add a comforting familiarity. The material comes largely from classic popular accounts (Steven Runciman, Thomas Asbridge, Jonathan Phillips) which Eastaugh quotes from throughout (there’s also a handy list on her website) but other sources give the story from the Islamic side (Amin Maalouf is a very popular one).
Like many of the Crusades themselves, the early episodes are affected by equipment issues – poor quality recording equipment that leaves the volume lower than one would like. But stick with it and things do get progressively better. The content is good from the first episode anyway. The website is smooth and well presented (though I can see a few older websites out there – so that presumably improved over time too).
I like the podcast as a whole. I have listened to the 107 episodes (probably about twenty minutes each) on the Middle Eastern Crusades, and I’m looking forward to continuing on to her additional series on the Cathars and the Baltic Crusades. The latter especially is a topic I don’t know much about. There’s not too much analysis in the show, but I like the storytelling – combining the accounts of various weightier sources. The main podcast is free, but she does offer bonus episodes via her Patreon page. I definitely think this is worth checking out.
As part of my read through The Decline & Fall, here’s a quote that sums up Roman attitudes to religion rather succinctly, but may say even more about the English Enlightenment.
The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus toleration produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.
This is a strange book in a temporal sense. Morris originally wrote in 1960 and returned to revise it in the seventies and eighties. My (library) edition is from the early nineties. As Morris describes the people, places and behaviours of Venice, it isn’t clear what is from when. This gives a feeling of a city that is both timeless and in perpetual decline. There are plenty of details but many feel quaint and out of date – whether they are or not. But despite it feeling easy to get lost in them, those details are well written and often entertaining. Morris, like so many, clearly has a passion for the city (and I can see why).
Really, there’s a theme here about the death of local societies. Morris describes elderly women who have visited the same green grocers that their family has used for generations. That wasn’t in evidence when I visited, and (from other readings) it would seem to have died out – but that isn’t unique to Venice. Perhaps the magical world of Venice just seems to amplify the processes that happen elsewhere. Specifically to the city itself, my favourite chapter was one two thirds of the way through that discussed proposed futures for the city – kept as a museum of sorts, turned into a hive of craft industry or demolished as a futurist stunt.
She loses me slightly in the last third of the book, which offers a look at the decline of and the sights of the other islands of the lagoon. Islands like Murano and Burano should be interesting, and there are good anecdotes sprinkled throughout, but I found the whole section a bit of a dreary end to the book. On the whole though, I like the book. I’m not entirely sure what it is meant to be: not history, not a guidebook, not exactly a travel journal – but it does conjure up a certain image of the city.
I’ve been reading through Edward Gibbon’s classic Decline And Fall. It’s quite a task, and early days yet, but I came across a few lines here and there I liked and wanted to share. The 18th century historian Gibbon has been long since been superseded by later scholarship, but he is still well worth reading for his snippy style. I like that he offered well read, but occasionally very opinionated judgements throughout – right from chapter one, as the quote below shows.
After a war of about forty years, undertaken by the most stupid, maintained by the most dissolute, and terminated by the most timid of all the emperors, the far greater part of the island submitted to the Roman yoke.
Claudius, Nero and Domitian by the way.
I’ve been reading a bit of Italian history recently. Partly inspired by a trip to Venice, partly just because the patchwork renaissance world of advanced, somewhat independent city states intrigues me. Maybe I’ve played too much Europa Universalis, but those strategy video games kept coming to mind here. Caterina Sforza was born the daughter of the powerful Duke of Milan, but married a member of an up and coming papal family, and found herself helping him to govern the small towns of Forli and Imola. In an Italy increasingly under the sway of major powers, this would be playing the game on quite a difficult mode,
Girolamo Riario, the husband, was erratic and got himself involved in the Pazzi conspiracy against the Medici. His uncle Pope Sixtus IV eventually passed away and Caterina (although pregnant) jumped into the news by occupying parts of Rome to push for a beneficial result in the papal election. Neither of these were particularly successful and Riario soon found himself assassinated, and Caterina besieged by enemies. She would again show a ruthless side by taking an aggressive line in the face of enemies holding her children hostage (there’s a famous quotation “here I have what’s needed to make others”). She would rule the towns for more than another decade, with another two marriages (her choices this time) before being defeated and captured by the infamous Cesare Borgia.
This book by art historian Elizabeth Lev tells that story very well. The writing generally flows very well. An exciting tale of an independent woman in the world of the Medicis and the Borgias. There are however small touches in the writing that I didn’t like – there was a tendency to suggest what Caterina may have been thinking, and to repeatedly point out that she was a strong woman (telling rather than showing). She also can’t resist going into (what feels like) unnecessary detail on some artworks of the time. The main plot is good enough to make up for those minor issues.
Writing a book like this about Italy isn’t an easy job. The country has only officially existed for around one hundred and fifty years, and the debate is still open on how unified it has ever been. Black takes two hundred and sixty pages to rush through pre-history, the middle ages, multiple revolutions, more than a few wars and modern Italian politics. It’s obviously tough, but he leaves regional events or trends aside and does succeed in painting a general but chaotic picture of the peninsula. Some bits are better than others – there’s a lot of information to pack in and at times the book feels rather over edited: casually mentioning characters who are only introduced a few pages later, and the occasional garbled sentence.
Things get rather better once he’s past the Romans and early middle ages and into the Italian Wars of the 15th and 16th centuries. This is closer to Black’s specialist era, and he does feel more comfortable in both his summarising and his detail. I liked the build up to modern Italian politics – giving a brief overview of the trends that have led to the Five Star Movement and the Lega Nord entering into power together. Black isn’t afraid to call out cases of corruption, incompetence or dishonesty, but the whole thing feels (to me, anyway) fairly balanced.
The last part of the book looks at the different regions of Italy via travellers through previous centuries. That feels like a nice curiosity, but one that is neither detailed enough to really engage or modern enough to be a true travel guide. I liked the idea, but I would rather have had a full two hundred pages of it! Overall, this is a nice introduction to a varied country – it was never going to be an easy task to do everything justice. Some bits work better than others, but at its best it is an entertaining and informative read.
Subtitled The Secret Heart of Russia’s History
Catherine Merridale tells the history of Russia through the story of the iconic Moscow citadel, The Kremlin. Or she tells the history of the fortress itself, and those who inhabited it. It kind of swings between the two – a grand wide-ranging history, and something smaller and more focused. I suspect the intention is the later, but it’s not really possible to do that without it becoming something a little more specialist. I don’t think the general reader (myself included) has the background knowledge of Russia required to stick too closely to the location. The problem with looking for a more general Russian history here is that at some of the most interesting times (much of Peter The Great’s career, Catherine The Great, today(!)) the action doesn’t really take place there. But this is really just a problem of expectations – there is still plenty of interest here.
The author doesn’t delve too far into the buildings themselves, we get when they were built and why – but this isn’t a book on art and architecture. The centre here is the stories and the people of the complex. The highlight for me is really Napoleon. The tactical surrender of the city to the French, the devastating fire and the subsequent recovery. Despite its reasonable length of 400ish pages, it can actually be quite a dense book in places – this may be a cut down version of Russian history but Merridale has done some detailed research.
Most of the Russian histories that I have read have some sort of idea or theme projected through out the book. In Martin Sixsmith’s volume, for example, it was democracy vs autocracy. In Red Fortress, it is secrecy and plotting. The Kremlin makes a beautiful and eerie setting for it. Even her own experiences of writing and researching seem to be layered in a certain degree – forbidden areas and material abound.
There have been many reasons suggested for the end of the western Roman empire – there’s a famous list of 210 from a German historian that sometimes gets brought up on this (everything from lead in the drinking water and gout to anti-German racism). Here Kyle Harper doesn’t make those kind of sweeping statements, but he does show the impact that environmental factors may have had in the fall of the west and the decline of the east. The ideas can be summed up simply – the expansion of the empire coincided with a period of relatively good climate in the Mediterranean and beyond, before falling into trouble as the climate became harsher. The environmental boost may have led to Rome becoming a more urban and prosperous society than we might have expected given its level of technological development. This in turn placed them in a risky position where infectious disease was concerned.
Firstly, it wasn’t a great place for health in general – Harper shows that the Romans grew to smaller statures than people in the region before or after the empire, never mind elsewhere in more rural societies. It was a rich society, but not necessarily a healthy one. Secondly, it was primed for particular pandemics to strike: the Antonine Plague, a mid-third century plague and finally Justinian’s Plague. The particular diseases and situations led to different impacts – but ultimately the drop in population and the sheer sense of shock for the survivors would be difficult to deal with.
Harper doesn’t rule out the effect of the normal socio-political/great man explanations – in fact he rather skips over the actual fall of the west. He does however point out that these took place in a world defined by the environmental diseases, a world where those people and structures had to be resilient in the face of infectious disease. The idea doesn’t seem that new or complicated (and I don’t know enough of the academic history to say if it is) but Harper explains it well, going into just enough detail on epidemiology and the evidence for historical climate variation.
There are a few flaws with the book, it would really help to have a reasonable knowledge of the later Roman empire – the chronology, the people, the geography. Not too much, but the author doesn’t exactly hang around to explain who Stillicho was. In addition, some attempts in a conclusion to give a warning of our future relationship to the climate don’t read that well. I appreciate the sentiment, but it’s not really a conclusion. Finally, the following graph wound me up – a bit too much smoothing on there!
Seriously, it’s a good book – not quite as mind blowing as some reviews might suggest, but meticulously put together, well written (it made me want to read more medicine/biology – and I’ve avoided that since I was 15) and something that will surely be an influential book in the years to come.