Book Review: The Last Crusaders

The Last Crusaders:  The Hundred Year Battle For The Center Of The World, by Barnaby Rogerson

Although the author does not make any claims to be a scholar, I have found him to be a very worthwhile guide to history that is often very obscure to English-language readers.  There is no doubt, for example, that the concerns of population transfers between continents and the religious divide between Christendom and Islam still has a powerful effect on the Mediterranean world and this was no less true in the period discussed in this book between the early 1400’s and the late 1500’s.  Of particular interest is the way that the author covers exciting people, dramatic battle scenes, and also the more mundane business of trade, piracy, and logistics and the garrisons that secure a territory in the face of hostility [1].  One of the consistent patterns noted in this book is that the seizure of coastal territories in North Africa by European powers was met by the transfer of trade from the Muslim interior to other areas that were not (yet) under the rule of the Spanish or the Portuguese.  What looked like wealthy jewels of an empire ended up being costly and beleaguered garrison fortresses instead, showing that the economics of empire just did not always add up.

The book itself is more than four hundred pages and is composed of fifteen chapters in three parts.  The first part of the book looks at the birth of several new powers in the Mediterranean, beginning with the unexpected rise of Portugal and their early efforts at controlling the coast of Morocco and dominating the trade of the Indian Ocean. After this the author looks at the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire under Mehmet II, the conquest of Grenada by the Spanish, the emergence of the Muslim corsairs under the Barbarossa brothers, and the transformation of the Ottoman Empire up to 1510.  The second part of the book looks at the struggle between these powers over control of the Mediterranean, looking at Portugal’s dominance in East Africa and the Indian Ocean over the pepper trade, the Moroccan struggle against the Portuguese, the rivalry between Charles V and Francis I, the Ottoman golden age under Suleiman the Magnificent, the workings of various corsair kingdoms, and the the darker side of conquests, crusades, and family killings among the Mediterranean powers.  The last three chapters look at the destructive wars that ended the crusading instincts of Muslims and Christians alike in the slaughters at Djerba and Malta, Cyprus and Lepanto, and the battle of the three kings at Alcazarquivir, ending with a melancholy look at death and bravery and folly.

One of the more interesting aspects of this book is the way that the author makes a complicated time sensible and points to the way that internal divides were often key in the way that the last crusades were fought.  As is the case at present, there were sharp divides within each side of the religious wars that were fought with just as much, if not more, determination than the culture wars themselves.  Witness, for example, the rivalry between the Valois and the Hapsburg dynasties or between the Ottoman Empire and their Safavid enemies in Iran and the Sharifs of Morocco.  In this book one sees that rulers with a high sense of moral virtue tended not to be rewarded, while success in these evil times required a certain amount of ruthlessness that tended to make successful rulers into rather grim and unhappy ones, their hands covered in the blood of innocents.  How much relevant that is to the present day is something that the author mercifully leaves to the reader, for this is a book that provides compelling stories as well as serious material to reflect on.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/04/29/how-long-can-the-united-kingdom-retain-control-over-the-falkland-islands/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/12/03/the-fortress-as-death-trap/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/07/10/periphery-and-core/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/03/04/on-the-folly-of-land-wars-in-asia/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2010/12/20/yeonpyeong-island-and-fort-sumter-an-essay-on-provocation/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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