Book Review: How To Plan A Crusade

How To Plan A Crusade: Religious War In The High Middle Ages, by Christopher Tyerman

This is the sort of book that I have never seen before about the crusades, and the sort of book that very much is worth reading if medieval military history is an interest to you, dear reader. At its core, this is a book about logistics and the savvy of the logistical capabilities of medieval Christian crusaders, and their demonstration of sound principles of how to finance and supply war efforts despite the long logistical chains that connected the territories of the Outremer with the Western European starting locations of the crusades. But more than simply being about logistics, the author has done serious research and also some very serious thinking about the uneasy tie between the rational prosecution of war in the Middle Ages as well as the deeply religious aims of the Crusades. The author points out to the reader, and hopefully few readers will be ignorant enough to miss it, that the aims of the crusades were fundamentally theological and religious in nature but that the way that wars were waged, even religious wars, demonstrated rationality that would compare with the contemporary way of war, inviting the reader to understand that religiosity need not be in conflict with rationality in any endeavor, including the waging of religious warfare.

This book is about 300 pages long and it is divided into five sections and twelve chapters that demonstrates conclusively the seriousness of the planning and execution of Crusades in a wide variety of areas using a sound and wide reading of medieval sources. The author begins with an entertaining preface, a chronology, a list of illustrations, a list of maps, and an introduction that set the context for the work and its focus on the rationality of medieval war planning in the Crusades. After that the author looks at images of reason (1) and how it is that we do not often look at the people of the Middle Ages as sufficiently rational. This is followed by a look at justification (I) and how it is that the people of the Middle Ages established a case for the Crusades (2). After this comes a look at propaganda (II) and the nature of publicity (3) and persuading (4) people to fight on behalf of the cross. This is followed by a look at recruitment efforts (III) and how it is that people were recruited and rewarded for their service (5) as well as who it was that went on crusade (6). After this comes a discussion of crusading finance (IV), including the costs of a crusade (7) and how they were paid (8). Then comes the closing section of the book on crusading logistics (V), and how it is that crusades were coordinated (9), how it was that the health and safety of crusaders was maintained (10), as well as the supplying of crusader forces (11), and the strategy and even grand strategy of the crusades (12). The book has a short conclusion that expresses the author’s reflections as well as notes, a bibliography, and an index.

It is a common thing for people today, and for the last 200 to 250 years or so, to mock the people of the Middle Ages as being overly credulous and lacking in rationality in the way that they lived. To many in contemporary post-Christendom, it is automatically irrational to engage in religious warfare–which is perhaps one reason why the religious motivations of warfare to contemporary Muslims is so incomprehensible to many nonreligious folk. Yet over and over again in this book the author demonstrates that the Crusaders, from their own written records and from the accounts of their behavior, demonstrated a high degree of concern for practical matters even as they engaged in an idealistic struggle to defend Christianity from Muslim aggression in the Middle East. That the effort was unsuccessful, ultimately, does not mean that it was irrational, nor does it mean that efforts made on behalf of one’s religious beliefs are irrational on the face of it. The author seems troubled by the implication that religiously motivated behavior for Christians (or anyone else) can be rational, but let us hope that the experience of demonstrating the rationality of Crusader strategy and logistics has a positive effect on his respect for religious people in general, especially Christians.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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