Crusader Castles: Christian Fortresses In The Middle East, by Brian Hoggard
The author of this book makes a strong case for the vital importance of fortification design for the relative longevity of the Crusader states in the Outremer. While we are used to thinking of the Crusades as a failure, the author makes a sound point that the ability of the Crusaders to successfully besiege fortresses as well as to build fortresses that were able to resist the efforts of the surrounding Muslim states allowed the Crusader states the ability to hold onto territory far more effectively than would have been the case had the Crusader states been forced to survive based on their armies alone. This is a thought well worth keeping in mind, because the ability of the Crusader states to build fortresses of such might is something that came directly from their own experience of war. It should be noted that one of the obvious strategies of a nation which has demographic weaknesses (as was definitely the case for the Crusader states) is to build strongholds in immensely defensible areas to use in order to preserve one’s strength and allow one safe bases for raiding and avoiding the efforts of stronger nations.
This book is a short one at a bit more than 50 pages in length and is divided into five chapters. The book begins with a discussion of the castle builders of the Crusades and how it was and where it was that the Western Europeans brought their expertise in building fortresses into their conquests during the First Crusade and after that (1). After that the author talks about how the castles were built and the sorts of qualities in terrain and location that the Crusaders preferred when building their castles, which the author admires as being generally strong and well-sited (2). This is followed by a discussion of life in castles, something that is likely to be of interest to the reader (3). After this comes a look at how castles were useful in war, giving plenty of stories of how it was that the Crusaders used such castles and how the castles were a great aid to the effort on the part of Crusaders to maintain a hold in the Holy Land despite their small numbers of knights (4). Finally, the author looks at castles today in the Middle East and how they appear for contemporary travelers (5), after which there is a glossary, places to go for more information or more reading, a bibliography, and an index.
Although this book deals with a very important subject matter, namely the construction of crusader castles, as always in this series this is a book that could use more depth. There are, for example, some castles of which it is said that the Muslims never conquered them, but they were simply abandoned. It is worth considering why this was the case, and why it was that a coastal fortress that remained unconquered would be worth abandoning by those who were still putting effort into putting troops into the area. There is more here than meets the eye and is worth considering. Likewise, the fact that some Muslim rulers were so impressed with Crusader fortifications that they gave generous surrender terms when they were about to mine such fortresses so as to take such castles into their own domains suggests strongly that the Crusaders did a great deal right when it came to protecting their territory with fortifications. Why is this not better known or recognized in the West? One would think that a great many historians would wish to provide a fair and balanced view of the Crusades that recognized the strengths of what the West brought to bear even if the efforts to defend the interests of Christians in the area and roll back on Muslim conquests was sadly and belatedly unsuccessful.