Another book on the Crusades could we say? It is believed that all has been said on the subject, but the research continues, and so does the public interest. Far from encyclopedic sums, or even more political than historical works, here we have a little book that could well turn out to be a pleasant surprise.
First the author: Alessandro Barbero was born in 1959, he is a novelist, historian (he teaches at the University of Piedmont-Oriental in Vercelli) but above all he is Italian, which can be interesting in a French context: in Indeed, what is the vision of the crusades by our European neighbors, whereas with us they have an importance in our imaginations rarely denied? Immediately, however, we must note that this is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book, except perhaps in its mention of the Montferrat family, originally from Piedmont and who had a very important place within Latin States.
The book is divided into four main thematic chapters.
The first puts things a little flat on what we know about the reasons which led to the crusade; He clearly evokes the diversity of these reasons, from politics to demography, including economics, but he insists all the same on the religious aspect, by means of the importance of the pilgrimage: the crusade is above all a pilgrimage.
The second theme, called “epic”, is a little more interesting. The author does not give us a chronological account of the Crusades, but emphasizes various prominent figures: Godefroi de Bouillon, then Saint Louis, Richard the Lionheart and finally the Montferrat family. As with everything else in the book, the tone is quite light, at times a bit biting and very pleasant to read.
The third chapter tackles a theme that has been dealt with more and more often for some time when it comes to talking about the crusades, the current context helping: the holy war, through the crusade but also jihad. We must at this moment specify that the original title chosen by A. Barbero is "Benedette war: Crociate e Jihad", which really corresponds to this part, but which is surprising given the title chosen for the French edition… Here, the author develops the two concepts for us, focusing on the Christian aspect and the evolution since the Roman Empire, and on this paradox which sees a pacifist religion sanctifying war; if he does not teach us much more than Jean Flori in "Holy War, Jihad, Crusade, ..." (Seuil, 2002), this passage is no less interesting and always so pleasant to browse. We just have to put a caveat to the fact that the author falls at the end of this part in the "trap" of the clash of civilizations, even if he shows its complexity. However, we cannot really hold it against him, as this approach is unfortunately widespread in the works of recent years on the Crusades, and on the relationship between Islam and the West ...
The last part is probably where the book brings the most, and in a style that is still captivating. Entitled "The West Seen by" Others ", it dwells on the Byzantine and Muslim visions of these somewhat shaggy and violent Franks who landed in the Holy Land at the end of the 11th century. First by the fascinating summary of the testimony of Anne Comnenus, daughter of Emperor Alexis who saw the arrival of the First Crusade, then by that of Usâma Ibn Mounqidh, a Turkish lord. Barbero tells us several tasty anecdotes, sometimes funny, but always interesting, and he ends up with a rather optimistic, and in any case positive, report of the relations between the different peoples in this period, however violent and troubled. He only regrets the misunderstandings that led to a divorce that some now consider inevitable, when the respect and the possibility of dialogue were there ...
At the end of the book, a chronology and a bibliography of basic works is a good idea.
“Stories of the Crusades” is therefore a very pleasant surprise, both pleasant to read and original in its tone and part of the themes addressed. It therefore finds its place in the library of enthusiasts of the epic of the Crusades.
A. BARBERO, Stories of the Crusades, Champs histoire, Paris, 2010, 125 p.