A dramatic review of Mediterranean history in the Middle Ages.
Catlos (Religious Studies/Univ. of Colorado; The Victors and the Vanquished: Christians and Muslims of Catalonia and Aragon, 1050-1300, 2004, etc.) intentionally veers away from earlier treatments of the age of the Crusades by focusing on the entire Mediterranean region as a diverse and interconnected region. The author moves from west to east as he examines this complex world through the stories of various individuals. He begins in Spain with Abu Ibrahim Isma’il, a Jew who rose to the highest ranks of a Muslim-dominated empire. Catlos then profiles Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, the legendary Christian soldier better known as El Cid. Moving to Italy, the author discusses King Roger II, whose kingdom was religiously and ethnically diverse. In Cairo, Catlos introduces Bahram Pahlavuni, an Armenian Christian who ruled an Islamic empire. Finally, the author examines Reynaud de Châtillon as an archetypal Frankish crusader. These people, and a wide host of others, come alive in the author’s energetic prose. Rather than recounting dry history, Catlos tends to set his stage with imagined scenes of real people dealing with their landscapes, historic circumstances and even climates. A touch of dry humor pervades his writing as well. From beginning to end, readers are struck by the intensely violent nature of this time period, a characteristic that spanned all religions and regions. Though warfare was a given, violence was also deeply personal, and the higher one climbed in any power structure, the more likely they were to be executed or assassinated. “[A]s integrated and cosmopolitan as these societies may have appeared,” writes the author, “they were built on relationships of power in which the threat of violence was ever present.”
A vivid history of “the collaboration and integration of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian peoples of the Mediterranean that laid the foundation for the modern world.”