The Tragedy Of The Templars: The Rise And Fall Of The Crusader States, by Michael Haag
Historians often face a conundrum when it comes to providing context for their books. On the one hand, with too little context the historian is relying on the background knowledge of the reader to fill in the inevitable gaps that explain the motivations of the people involved. On the other hand, though, with too much context the author appears to be fluffing up a topic that does not merit a book-length treatment with a lot of extraneous information. It is hard for a writer to find that balance point that provides enough context to make sense of a given historical period or event but not too much that the author appears to waste the time of the reader. This author manages to find that balance in talking about the Templars in a subtle way, both by providing context of the period before the creation of the Templars as an institution and also by providing context of what was going on while the Templars were trying to protect/recover the the Outremer from occasional Muslim acts of aggression at key parts when various dynasties ruling over Egypt and Syria were trying to establish their legitimacy through jihad.
This book is a fairly lengthy one at more than 350 pages, seven parts, and 25 chapters. The book begins with a series of maps on the Mediterranean at the eve of the Crusades, the Crusader states, as well as Crusader Jerusalem. After that the book begins with a prologue and then contains six chapters that discuss the Middle East before the Crusades (I), such as the Christian world (1), Arab conquests (2), Palestine under the Umayyads and Arab tribes (3), the Abbasids and the decline of the Arabs (4), the Byzantine Crusades of the 10th century (5), and the Muslim wars and the destruction of Palestine (6). After this the author discusses the Turkish invasion and the provocation of the first crusade (II), with chapters on the Turkish invasion (7), the call for crusade (8), and the First Crusade (9). This leads to a discussion of the founding of the Templars and the Crusader states (III), with chapters on the origins of the Templars (10), the outremer (11), Zengi’s jihad against Edessa (12), and the failure of the second crusade (13). After that the author discusses the Templars and the defense of the Outremer (IV), including chapters looking at the perspective of Jerusalem (14), the defense of the kingdom of Jerusalem (15), and templar wealth (16). Another three chapters look at Saladin and his relationship with the Templars (V), including tolerance and intolerance (17), Saladin’s jihad (18), and the fall of Jerusalem (19). A discussion of the Kingdom of Acre follows (VI), with a look at recovery (20), the Mamelukes (21), and the fall of Acre (22). Finally, the aftermath of the end of the Crusades (VII) leads to a look at lost souls (23), the trial of the Templars (24), and their destruction as an order (25), after which the book ends with notes, a bibliography, and an index.
Ultimately, the tragedy of the Templars is not too hard to understand. While Europe enjoyed a qualitative superiority over their often-divided Muslim opponents, they simply lacked the demographics to be able to sustain their efforts at holding on to the Outremer in the face of Muslim quantitative superiority given their own internal divides and their multiple simultaneous efforts in Iberia, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans as well as in the Middle East. Once the Kingdom of Jerusalem was out of reach for the Europeans, the Templar success as financiers made them vulnerable as a target for always impecunious European monarchs like the French, who then resorted to trumped up charges to try to steal the wealth of the Templars for state-building exercises. The tragedy of the Templars is that there were not enough of them to defend Christian interests in the Middle East against the Muslims, or strong enough to overthrow the Muslim states and replace them with better ones, but that they were too wealthy to be allowed to preserve their institutional wealth by greedy and corrupt monarchs like French’s king Philip the Fair. Such a tragedy is not hard to understand in contemporary times as institutions often pursue interests contrary to the states where they operate, and is a lesson to contemporary history students to ponder.