ARMIES OF HEAVEN by Jay Rubenstein


The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse
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Apocalyptic thinking in the organization and conduct of the First Crusade.

In order to profile the rationalizations and beliefs in the apocalyptical mission of some of the participants in the Crusade (approximately 1095-1099), Rubenstein (Medieval History/Univ. of Tennessee; Guibert de Nogent: Portrait of a Medieval Mind, 2002) examines chronicles from the 11th and 12th centuries, like the Gesta Francorum and the accounts of Raymond of Aguilers and Albert of Aachen. Like other historians, the divides participants into “popular” and “princely” components, led by Peter the Hermit on the one hand, and Norman and Frankish aristocrats on the other. Peter and his followers didn't make it, but on the way, those who took up the cross first massacred Jews in a variety of locales and then Christians in Hungary; then they attacked Constantinople and the Byzantine Emperor. The Emperor wanted to turn the crusaders against the Seljuk Turks, incoming invaders from Central Asia who were threatening the Byzantines from Central Anatolia, and succeeded to some extent. Unlike Anne-Marie Eddé's Saladin (2011), Rubenstein does not try to compare the stories of the chronicles with the diplomatic and political record. He focuses more on the supernatural elements in play, as portents and omens, ghostly visitors and holy relics came together with the bestiality of the crusaders' bloodthirsty conduct.

An engaging, cautionary account emphasizing the consequences of untrammeled irrationalism.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-465-01929-8
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2011


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