Book Review: Byzantium and The Crusades


by Jonathan Harris

Oxford & New York: Bloomsbury, 2022, third edition. Pp. xvi, 306. Illus., maps, stemma, chron., appends., notes, biblio., index. $36.95 paper. ISBN: 135019977X

Clash of Cultures in the Crusading Era

Between 1096 and 1291, the Church of Rome, the feudal aristocracy, and the peoples of Western Europe fought a series of military campaigns against various Muslim rulers of the Eastern Mediterranean (or the Middle East, or the “Holy Land”). Originally, it was all about control of the holy city of Jerusalem, which had been held by Muslims since they conquered it from the Orthodox Christian Eastern Roman (or “Byzantine”) empire in the year 638. Over the course of time, it became all about many other things, including land, loot, and the incompatible ideologies of the Western Europeans and their suspicious Byzantine “allies.” Things came to a head in 1204, when the Fourth Crusade sacked and looted Constantinople, making that Greek-speaking city the capital of a shaky "Latin Empire” that endured for 57 years.

Eleven chapters tell the story, in chronological order, beginning in the year 900. A brief Epilogue takes the story up to the end of the empire:

“Although the Ottoman Turks delivered the final blow, the seizure of Constantinople and the dismemberment of the provinces in 1204 must have caused long-term damage. Even though Constantinople was recaptured in 1261, Byzantium as reconstituted was smaller and weaker than it was in 1050 and less able to withstand aggression from the east.” (p. 224)

Thirty well-chosen photographs illustrate the book. There are also six maps that show every named location mentioned in the text, although the maps are a bit fuzzy (a common production problem in academic publications.)

A fascinating Appendix reviews “Byzantium and the Crusades in fiction.”

Byzantium and the Crusades is a thoughtful, deeply researched and highly readable account of the clash of cultures that unfolded when these Eastern and Western successors of the Roman empire encountered one another. This new third edition of a book that originally appeared in 2006 incorporates much new material.

Jonathan Harris is Professor of the History of Byzantium at the University of London. His books include The End of Byzantium (2011), Constantinople: Capital of Byzantium (2017) and The Lost World of Byzantium (2016).

Byzantium and the Crusades is reasonably priced, and will be enjoyed by readers with an interest in medieval history.


Our Reviewer: Mike Markowitz is an historian and wargame designer. He writes a monthly column for CoinWeek.Com and is a member of the ADBC (Association of Dedicated Byzantine Collectors). His previous reviews include, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, The Age of the Dromon: The Byzantine Navy, ca. 500-1204, Military Saints in Byzantium and Rus, 900-1200, Heroes and Romans in Twelfth-Century Byzantium: The Material for History of Nikephoros Bryennios, The Power Game in Byzantium: Antonina and the Empress Theodora, Siege Warfare and Military Organization in the Successor States (400-800 AD), Constantine XI Dragaš Palaeologus, Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium, The Emperor in the Byzantine World, The Politics of Roman Memory: From the Fall of the Western Empire to the Age of Justinian, Theodosius and the Limits of Empire, Byzantium Triumphant: The Military History of the Byzantines, 959–1025, Rome Resurgent: War and Empire in the Age of Justinian, Bohemond of Taranto, The Last Viking: The True Story of King Harald Hardrada, and Ancient Rome: Infographics.




Note: Byzantium and the Crusades is also available in hard cover and e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: Mike Markowitz   

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