Timothy Dalrymple recently interviewed Rodney Stark on his book God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades which was published last year.
Dalrymple: Why reassess the Crusades?
Stark: Because the Crusades are often understood within a larger framework that says that Islam is the gentle faith and Christianity the violent one.
…The notion, for example, that the Crusaders went to get loot and land and riches is made absurd by the survival of hundreds and hundreds of mortgages that have been found in the archives at various monasteries and convents. These people mortgaged away everything they owned in order to get the money to march East. They went at enormous personal cost. Most of them died. They knew there wasn’t anything out there in the sand that was going to reward them for going.
The things I write about in this book are no secret among historians of the Crusades. I’m simply bringing their work to a popular audience.
Dalrymple: The Crusades did not arise ex nihilo, but were part of a broader historical and geographical narrative. Can you tell us about that?
Stark: The fact is that Islam had been attacking the west for more than 400 years before the Crusades began. Shortly after the death of Muhammad, the armies started marching. They took the Middle East, which was a Christian area beforehand. They took the Holy Land. They took all of North Africa, which had been mostly Christian. They went across the straits and took most of Spain. They took southern Italy. They took Sicily. A Muslim army marched up within 150 miles of Paris before they were turned around and run back out.
The point is that an aggressive, invasive warfare had been going on between Europeans and Islam for hundreds of years. Shortly before the First Crusade, the Normans drove the Muslims out of southern Italy and Sicily. But the Muslims were still in Spain. As a matter of fact, about thirty years before the First Crusade, the pope tried to get a Crusade going to Spain, which was about half-reclaimed at the time. And that presents an interesting contrast. Spain was close; you didn’t have to march 2500 miles; and there were riches to be had in Spain. Yet nobody went. The reason nobody went, and then thirty years later they all went, if you will, is because nobody believed that Jesus had walked around in Spain.
Interesting interview which goes on to discuss some other issues. I do not know a lot about the Crusades, though the justification for the different Crusades likely had variable validity. I was long aware that North Africa had been Christian prior to Islam, but apparently significant parts of the Middle East also.
The book looks like it may be an interesting read.