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The First Crusade: The Call from the East

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Overview

According to tradition, the First Crusade began at the instigation of Pope Urban II and culminated in July 1099, when thousands of western European knights liberated Jerusalem from the rising menace of Islam. But what if the First Crusade’s real catalyst lay far to the east of Rome? In this groundbreaking book, countering nearly a millennium of scholarship, Peter Frankopan reveals the untold history of the First Crusade.

Nearly all historians of the First Crusade focus on the papacy and its willing warriors in the West, along with innumerable popular tales of bravery, tragedy, and resilience. In sharp contrast, Frankopan examines events from the East, in particular from Constantinople, seat of the Christian Byzantine Empire. The result is revelatory. The true instigator of the First Crusade, we see, was the Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, who in 1095, with his realm under siege from the Turks and on the point of collapse, begged the pope for military support.

Basing his account on long-ignored eastern sources, Frankopan also gives a provocative and highly original explanation of the world-changing events that followed the First Crusade. The Vatican’s victory cemented papal power, while Constantinople, the heart of the still-vital Byzantine Empire, never recovered. As a result, both Alexios and Byzantium were consigned to the margins of history. From Frankopan’s revolutionary work, we gain a more faithful understanding of the way the taking of Jerusalem set the stage for western Europe’s dominance up to the present day and shaped the modern world.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In a field near Clermont, France, on November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II issued a rousing call to arms, a march to Jerusalem to retake the Holy City from the infidel Muslims who for more than 20 years had been invading and conquering lands belonging to Christians. Four years later, European armies arrived in Jerusalem and drove out the Muslims, retaking the city for Christendom. Yet, as historian Frankopan, a fellow at Oxford, so forcefully reminds us in this cracking good story of political and religious intrigue, the real reason that Urban II rallied the forces that day was an urgent message from Alexios I Komnenos, emperor of Byzantium, whose political authority had begun to decline and whose empire was under attack on all sides by Muslim forces. Alexios called upon Urban, who sent troops immediately. Frankopan draws deeply upon the Alexiad, written several decades later by Komnenos’s daughter, Anna, and he presents a vivid portrait of a man whose early political ineptness created division in his empire, but whose boldness launched the Crusades and changed the shape of the medieval world by expanding the geographic, cultural, and political horizons of Europe. 2 maps. (Apr.)
John Julius Norwich
A dazzling book, perfectly combining deep scholarship and easy readability. The most important addition to Crusading literature since Steven Runciman.
Jonathan Phillips
In this fluent and dramatic account, Peter Frankopan rightly places the Emperor Alexios at the heart of the First Crusade and in doing so skillfully adds a dimension frequently missing from our understanding of this seminal event. Frankopan illuminates the complex challenges that faced Alexios and deftly depicts the boldness and finesse needed to survive in the dangerous world of medieval Byzantium.
Christopher Tyerman
Peter Frankopan's reassessment of the Byzantine contribution to the origins and course of the First Crusade offers a compelling and challenging balance to traditional accounts. Based on fresh interpretations of primary sources, lucidly written and forcefully argued, The First Crusade: The Call from the East will demand attention from scholars while providing an enjoyable and accessible narrative for the general reader.
Simon Sebag Montefiore
Filled with Byzantine intrigue in every sense, this book is important, compellingly revisionist and impressive in its scholarly use of totally fresh sources. It refocuses the familiar western story through the eyes of the emperor of the east and fills in the missing piece of the puzzle of the Crusades.
The Telegraph - Nicholas Shakespeare
In his project to give fuller credit to those Byzantine and Turkish leaders who actually caused the First Crusade, Frankopan proves refreshingly undaunted by the prospect of scaling the citadel of almost a thousand years of scholarship. He is like the Byzantine warrior he describes who invented an ingenious flying bomb, "coating young birds with pine resin mixed with wax and sulphur before setting fire to them and despatching them back to their nests inside the walls of the city he was besieging." Scholarly and yet accessible, and unapologetically partisan, The First Crusade, as any vibrant history should, is bound to set a lot of feathers flying...All in all, The First Crusade is a persuasive and bracing work. Peter Frankopan is not yet well known, but he deserves to be. One trusts him to go on ploughing his own furrow and not join the brat-pack of historians.
Washington Post - Michael Dirda
Highly readable...The First Crusade tells a complex story, but its presentation of political machinations, compromises and betrayals seems utterly convincing. The harsh truths of realpolitik are, alas, with us always.
The Daily - Benjamin Soloway
The Crusades have been at the center of Western thought for 1,000 years, and have been the subject of too many books to count: For Crusades buffs, it sometimes feels like there is nothing new under the sun, and for beginners, it can be difficult to know where to start. Oxford historian Peter Frankopan has crafted a narrative and an argument that will appeal to both groups. In the popular imagination, the First Crusade begins with Pope Urban II's stirring speech at the Council of Clermont in 1095. Frankopan reminds us there is another side to the story. The idea for the crusade, he writes, originated in the East, in a desperate yet strategic plea to the West issued by Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos, whose bold but misguided policies had placed his empire in grave danger. Much of the book is devoted to this often-overlooked Byzantine context, and it makes for a welcome rectification and lively reading. Frankopan's most interesting contribution is the idea that Alexios "knew how to appeal to Westerners," and created the Jerusalem objective as a selling point.
Sunday Times - Josh Glancy
Frankopan's reassessment of the first crusade through the prism of Byzantium is a useful corrective to the mass of western-centric crusade history...This book offers an accessible and convincing account of the crusade, which was both concocted and executed under the long shadow of Byzantium.
Oxford Times - Colin Gardiner
Frankopan [writes] with tremendous literary verve...[The] cry to free Jerusalem has never been better expressed...Frankopan's creative revisionism pierces the armor of medieval history with a new weapon: the call of the East.
Choice - S. A. Throop
Frankopan's work will challenge scholars while interesting and entertaining general readers… The overall contribution of this engagingly written and well-researched book is substantial.
The Telegraph

In his project to give fuller credit to those Byzantine and Turkish leaders who actually caused the First Crusade, Frankopan proves refreshingly undaunted by the prospect of scaling the citadel of almost a thousand years of scholarship. He is like the Byzantine warrior he describes who invented an ingenious flying bomb, "coating young birds with pine resin mixed with wax and sulphur before setting fire to them and despatching them back to their nests inside the walls of the city he was besieging." Scholarly and yet accessible, and unapologetically partisan, The First Crusade, as any vibrant history should, is bound to set a lot of feathers flying...All in all, The First Crusade is a persuasive and bracing work. Peter Frankopan is not yet well known, but he deserves to be. One trusts him to go on ploughing his own furrow and not join the brat-pack of historians.
— Nicholas Shakespeare

Washington Post

Highly readable...The First Crusade tells a complex story, but its presentation of political machinations, compromises and betrayals seems utterly convincing. The harsh truths of realpolitik are, alas, with us always.
— Michael Dirda

The Daily

The Crusades have been at the center of Western thought for 1,000 years, and have been the subject of too many books to count: For Crusades buffs, it sometimes feels like there is nothing new under the sun, and for beginners, it can be difficult to know where to start. Oxford historian Peter Frankopan has crafted a narrative and an argument that will appeal to both groups. In the popular imagination, the First Crusade begins with Pope Urban II's stirring speech at the Council of Clermont in 1095. Frankopan reminds us there is another side to the story. The idea for the crusade, he writes, originated in the East, in a desperate yet strategic plea to the West issued by Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos, whose bold but misguided policies had placed his empire in grave danger. Much of the book is devoted to this often-overlooked Byzantine context, and it makes for a welcome rectification and lively reading. Frankopan's most interesting contribution is the idea that Alexios "knew how to appeal to Westerners," and created the Jerusalem objective as a selling point.
— Benjamin Soloway

Sunday Times

Frankopan's reassessment of the first crusade through the prism of Byzantium is a useful corrective to the mass of western-centric crusade history...This book offers an accessible and convincing account of the crusade, which was both concocted and executed under the long shadow of Byzantium.
— Josh Glancy

Oxford Times

Frankopan [writes] with tremendous literary verve...[The] cry to free Jerusalem has never been better expressed...Frankopan's creative revisionism pierces the armor of medieval history with a new weapon: the call of the East.
— Colin Gardiner

Time Out
That rare thing--a truly fresh interpretation of an old story.
BBC History
Frankopan's qualities as a historian and a writer are of a high order...It is pleasing to see [the Byzantine view of the First Crusade] updated with scholarship and flair.
Choice

Frankopan's work will challenge scholars while interesting and entertaining general readers… The overall contribution of this engagingly written and well-researched book is substantial.
— S. A. Throop

Michael Dirda
The subtitle of Peter Frankopan's highly readable The First Crusade: The Call From the East underscores his revisionist approach to his subject: He seeks to understand the roots of the Crusades in the literally Byzantine politics of Asia Minor during the late 11th century…Certainly, The First Crusade tells a complex story, but its presentation of political machinations, compromises and betrayals seems utterly convincing.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674059948
  • Publisher: Harvard
  • Publication date: 4/1/2012
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Frankopan is Director of the Center for Byzantine Research at the University of Oxford.
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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter Four:Asia Minor in the 1080s



The Byzantine empire was under great pressure when Alexios took the throne – threatened by the incursions of aggressive neighbors, weakened by a collapsing economy, and riven with political infighting. Looking back through the distorting prism of the First Crusade, it would seem natural to assume that the greatest of these dangers came from hostile Turkish expansion in the east. This was certainly the impression created by Anna Komnene ; her testimony even suggested that Asia Minor has been essentially lost to the Turks before Alexios came to power. In fact, Asia Minor was relatively stable in the 1080s; indeed, the relationship between Byzantium and the Turks in the first part of Alexios’ reign was generally robust and pragmatically positive. It was only in the early 1090s, in the years immediately before the beginning of the First Crusade, that there was a dramatic deterioration of Byzantium’s position in the east. Conflict with the Muslim world, in other words, was by no means inevitable; it appears that the breakdown in relations between Christians and Muslims at the end of the eleventh century was the result of a spiraling political and military process, not the unavoidable conflict between two opposing cultures. It was, though, in the interests of Anna Komnene to create the opposite impression; and it is an impression that has lasted down through the centuries.

At the start of his reign the new emperor’s attentions were focused squarely on the Normans and the Pechenegs. The Byzantine position in Asia Minor, on the other hand, was fairly resilient: there were many locations which had mounted stern resistance against the Turks in the decade following the battle of Manzikert, and they continued to hold out effectively after Alexios took the throne. In many cases, the defiance was the result of effective local leadership, rather than of the actions of Constantinople. The area around Trebizond, on the north coast of Asia Minor, for example, was secured by Theodore Gabras, a scion of one of the town’s most prominent families. Such was the ferocity of Gabras’ defence of the surrounding region that his exploits and bravery were remembered with admiration by the Turks more than a hundred years later in a lyrical poem about their conquest of Asia Minor. A substantial area around Amaseia meanwhile was held extremely effectively by Roussel Balliol, a Norman initially in imperial service before declaring himself independent of Byzantium, frustrated by the lack of support he was being given by the government, and inspired by the strong support of the local population which lionized him for the protection he provided.

Commanders were holding out far into the eastern extremities of Anatolia, even into the Caucasus. Three sons of Mandales, ‘Roman magnates’ according to a Caucasian chronicler, were occupying strong points in the region of Kaisereia in 1080-1, presumably on behalf of the empire, rather than opportunistically for themselves. Basil Apokapes held the important town of Edessa before Alexios’ usurpation and after, to judge from lead seals issued in his name. The appointment of a new governor of Mesopotamia by Alexios’ predecessor in 1078 likewise provides an indication that there were significant Byzantine interests worth protecting hundreds of miles from Constantinople.

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Table of Contents

Illustrations xi

Maps xiii

Preface and Acknowledgements xix

Author s Note xxiii

Introduction 1

1 Europe in Crisis 13

2 The Recovery of Constantinople 26

3 Stability in the East 42

4 The Collapse of Asia Minor 57

5 On the Brink of Disaster 71

6 The Call from the East 87

7 The Response of the West 101

8 To the Imperial City 118

9 First Encounters with the Enemy 138

10 The Struggle for the Soul of the Crusade 157

11 The Crusade Unravels 173

12 The Consequences of the First Crusade 186

Abbreviations 207

Notes 210

Further Reading 238

Index 247

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