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As he recounts this rousing story, Reston brings to life the two legendary figures who led their armies against each other. He offers compelling portraits of Saladin, the wise and highly cultured leader who created a united empire, and Richard the Lionheart, the romantic personification of chivalry who emerges here in his full complexity and contradictions. From its riveting scenes of blood-soaked battles to its pageant of fascinating, larger-than-life characters, Warriors of God is essential history, history that helps us understand today's world.
“A refreshingly unbiased popular history of the Third Crusade which deserves a place on the shelf of every history teacher.” —The Washington Post Book World
“Reading this book, one sways between horror and exhilaration. The magnitude of human suffering is mind-boggling, but the warriors’ adventures are the stuff of boyhood fantasy.” —Forbes FYI
"Remarkably intimate and engagingly detailed."--Kirkus Reviews
A Sultan Is Born
Early in the twelfth century, in the city of Tovin in northern Armenia close to Georgia, there lived an eminent family of Kurds, the master of whose house was surnamed Najm ad-Din, which meant "excellent prince and star of religion." Najm ad-Din had a boon comrade named Bihruz, a man of intelligence and charm, qualities matched only by his bent for trouble. Bihruz had the misfortune to be discovered in a compromising position with the wife of the local emir, who promptly had Bihruz seized and castrated and banished from his fief.
After this humiliation Najm ad-Din decided to accompany his disgraced friend to Baghdad, the seat of the Abbasid caliphate, where the Caliph, Al Muqtafi li-amri'llah ("he who follows the orders of God"), reigned supreme over the Muslim world of the eastern Mediterranean. In Baghdad the Sultan of Iraq noticed their talents. Since eunuchs were then favored as teachers and administrators, Bihruz became the tutor of the Sultan's sons and a companion to the Sultan himself in the games of chess and draughts. He rose quickly in power and influence and soon became responsible for building some of the great buildings of the land. In his rise to power Bihruz brought his friend, Najm ad-Din, along with him. Among the rewards the Sultan bestowed on Bihruz for his service was the castle at Takreet, on the Tigris River, and Bihruz in turn bestowed the command of it on his friend, Najm ad-Din.
At the castle in Takreet, Najm ad-Din was joined by his younger and more ambitious brother, named Shirkuh, and together these Kurds from the north seemed marked for greatness. For the Arab world had arrived at a critical juncture in its history. Forty years earlier, in the year 1098, Europeans had descended on Palestine, conquering Jerusalem in what the Franks called a crusade and establishing a powerful state called the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which stretched from Antioch in the north to Elath on the Red Sea. Along the coastline and in the mountains the foreigners built huge fortresses to protect their kingdom, and thus the Muslim world was fractured and invaded, beaten, and occupied.
In the year 532 (a.d. 1137 in the Christian calendar) a son named Yusuf was born to Najm ad-Din. In Arab lands this was an ambiguous name, which was associated with all the vicissitudes of the life of Joseph the Prophet, the low life as well as the high, the greed and falseness as well as the piety and truth. The circumstances of Yusuf's birth seemed ominous as well. For on the very night that Yusuf was born, the child's uncle, Shirkuh, had a dispute with the Isfahsalar, commander at the castle gate, after the officer had insulted a woman and she had come to Shirkuh in tears. In a rage Shirkuh snatched the halberd of the commander and killed him with his own weapon. When their powerful patron, the eunuch Bihruz, heard of this in Baghdad, he was appalled and banished the brothers from Takreet in disgrace. That so terrible an event accompanied the birth of Yusuf was considered a bad sign, but later it would be said, "Good may come of adversity when you least expect it. And such was the case with Yusuf." From Takreet the brothers went to Mosul in northern Mesopotamia.
In Mosul, in the face of the European occupation of Palestine, a strong Arab leader named Zengy had taken power and was making strides in uniting the far-flung domains of Islam, where Mesopotamia was traditionally divided from Syria, where Antioch fought with Aleppo, Tripoli with Homs, Jerusalem with Damascus, where the Sunni branch of Islam fought with the Shi'ite branch. In his quest to overcome the divisions of the Muslim world, Zengy called these Kurdish brothers to his service. Najm ad-Din became the commander of Zengy's fortress in Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley, while Shirkuh became a powerful commander in the vizier's armies.
In November 1144, Zengy's forces captured Edessa in northern Mesopotamia, and thus the first of the fledgling Crusader provinces fell. The fall of Edessa was a shock to Europe. Largely through the eloquence of the Cistercian monk Bernard of Clairvaux, a campaign for a new Crusade began, and among the first to heed this call was the King of France, Louis VII, and his Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. In 1146, before the new Crusaders arrived in the Holy Land, Zengy died, and he was replaced by an even more powerful figure, Nur ad-Din. Two years later the Crusader forces were crushed outside the walls of Damascus, turning the Second Crusade into a total disaster and emboldening the forces of Islam further in their quest for the reconquest of Palestine.
The boy, Yusuf, grew up in Baalbek and Damascus. Though he was slight of build, his intelligence, his mannerliness, his generosity, his piety, and his modesty were noticed in the palaces of Damascus. Like a few others of his age, he was drawn to wine and women in his adolescence, but the seriousness of the historical situation eventually impressed him, and he renounced these temptations. Later it would be said that from the education of his sovereign, Nur ad-Din, Yusuf--later called Salah ad-Din or Saladin--learned to walk in the path of righteousness, to act virtuously, and to be zealous in waging war against infidels. In the court of Damascus the principle of striving in Allah's cause was emphasized, and the youth took to heart this invocation in the Koran: "Those who strive in Our Cause, we will surely guide in Our way, for verily Allah is with those who do right."
In 1163 Nur ad-Din saw clearly the next step in the unification of the Arab world against the European occupation. In Egypt the Fatimite caliphate (which practiced the Shi'ite rather than the Sunni way of Islam) was in disarray, and this presented the lord of Syria with a target of opportunity. Nur ad-Din ordered Shirkuh, Saladin's charismatic uncle, to undertake a succession of invasions to the south and ordered the young Saladin, now twenty-six years old, to accompany his uncle. Reluctantly, Saladin complied.
As Shirkuh and Saladin headed south, Nur ad-Din himself laid siege to the greatest of all the Crusader castles, Krak des Chevaliers, in central Syria, but the fortress was impregnable and the Muslim forces were turned back. The time was not yet ripe for a frontal assault on the Crusader kingdom.
In 1164, with Saladin in command of the vanguard of the army, Shirkuh conquered Cairo. But within weeks he was forced to withdraw when Crusader forces came to the aid of the Egyptian caliphate. Three years later a second invasion failed, again due to the support of the Crusaders, for above all else the Crusader kingdom could not abide a united Egypt and Syria. So desperate was this crisis considered in the Crusader kingdom that any baron refusing to heed the summons forfeited 10 percent of his income. Two further invasions faltered, until on January 8, 1169, in the fifth attempt, Shirkuh entered Cairo in triumph. Gloriously, he proclaimed himself to be the new King of Egypt--and then, abruptly, died two months later. Poison was suspected.
Pondering this reverse in Damascus, Nur ad-Din settled on Saladin as his uncle's successor. The young soldier was chosen not because of his strengths but because of the perceived weaknesses of his youth and inexperience. In truth, Nur ad-Din did not want a powerful competitor in Cairo, and he was certain that he could control his malleable and polite ward. In this he would be disappointed.
At first Saladin was the compliant subordinate. Mercilessly, he followed Nur ad-Din's orders to expunge the Shi'ite way of Islam in Egypt and replace it with the Sunni way. He requested of his lord that his father, Najm ad-Din, be allowed to come to Cairo. "My happiness will thus be complete," he wrote to his lord in Damascus, "and my adventure will be similar to that of Yusuf [Joseph] the faithful." Nur ad-Din granted the request. When Najm ad-Din arrived in the spring of 1170, his son greeted him with honors, even offering to resign and turn the command of Egypt over to his father. But his father replied, "O my son, God would not have chosen you to fill this post if you were not deserving of it. It is not right to change the object of Fortune's favors." Two years later, while riding near the Gate of Victory, the Bab an-Nasr, Najm ad-Din was thrown from his horse and died.
Between 1169 and 1174, while successive Crusader attacks sought unsuccessfully to undermine the grip of Damascus on Egypt, Nur ad-Din and Saladin developed an increasingly tense relationship after Saladin balked at certain directives from Damascus. Finally, in early 1174, Nur ad-Din had had enough of this impudence and mustered an army to invade Saladin's Egypt. But on May 15 of that year, as these preparations were under way, Nur ad-Din died. Absurdly, his power was handed to his eleven-year-old son.
A year later Saladin led an army out of Egypt and took control of Syria. He was proclaimed the Sultan of Syria and Egypt, and his vast empire now held the Crusader kingdom in its grip like a lobster claw.
Only because of the divisions among petty potentates, because of the feud between the Islamic sects of the Sunnis and the Shi'ites and between competing caliphates in Egypt and Syria and Turkey had the First Crusade succeeded. But gradually, with a slow inevitability that was almost providential, the Arab world consolidated its power in the face of the European occupation. The Arab recapture of Edessa had been the critical first step, and the failure of the Second Crusade gave the Islamic world confidence that it could drive the Christians into the sea. A succession of three strong Arab leaders advanced the union of the Arabs: the able Zengy who had recaptured Edessa and ruled until his death in 1147, the powerful Nur ad-Din who united all of Muslim Syria and Mesopotamia under Sunnism and subdued Egypt in 1169, and now Saladin.
When in 1175, at the age of thirty-eight, Saladin took power in both Damascus and Cairo, the centuries-old divisions evaporated. The Fatamid caliphate of Egypt was finished, and with its demise the Sunnism of the north supplanted Shi'ism along the Nile. In the spring of 1175, Saladin was declared King of Syria and was recognized as the Emperor of Syria and Egypt by the titular leader in the Middle East, the Caliph in Baghdad.
"When God gave me the land of Egypt, I was sure that he meant Palestine for me as well," Saladin proclaimed.
The dream of a united front against the Christians was a reality at last. That Arab dream was the Christian nightmare. For ninety years, through skillful alliances and offensive, destabilizing raids and strategic castles, the Latin Kingdom had kept its enemies off balance. The survival of the Latin Kingdom would now depend on its internal discipline and its military skill.
Before his final offensive began, the Sultan had one remaining task to accomplish within his own empire. He needed to subdue the last of the independent fiefs. In 1183, in the Muslim month of Safar (June) and after the death of a child-emir, he captured Aleppo. Beyond the military importance of the city, this triumph was fraught with symbolic importance. Aleppo was known as the Gray Castle, and among the public there was a popular saying that presaged even greater triumphs ahead:
Thy taking of the Gray Castle in the month of Safar announces the conquest of Jerusalem for the month of Rajab.
In 1186 the Sultan took Mosul in Upper Mesopotamia. He was well poised to strike. The month of Rajab was in the offing.
The Kingdom of Heaven
The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem had come into existence eighty-nine years earlier with the First Crusade. In 1098 Godfrey of Bouillon had stormed the walls of the Holy City and massacred the Muslim defenders by the thousands. The stone streets of Jerusalem ran with blood, through which the victorious Crusaders waded before falling to their knees in a mass of thanksgiving at the Holy Sepulcher.
Thirty years later the small kingdom was at the peak of its power. Christian knights pushed its boundaries outward as if the Muslim world were a feather pillow. The kingdom had thrived on the division of the enemy. The thousand tribes of Arabia had their minor emirs and viziers, who aligned themselves with the caliphates of either Cairo or Baghdad, fought over petty disputes, and prayed as part of either the Sunni or the Shi'ite sects of Islam.
By 1131 the Crusader kingdom comprised the greater part of Palestine and the coast of Syria. The European invaders, who over time became known generically as Franks, concentrated in the important coastal cities of Latakia, Tortosa, Tripoli, Beirut, Tyre, Acre, Haifa, Caesarea, Jaffa, and Ascalon, as well as the inland cities of Edessa, Antioch, Tiberias, and, most important, Jerusalem itself. The rural areas were left largely to the native population, who outnumbered their overlords five to one. In their bucolic pastures the natives cultivated their crops in peace and were content to give half the harvest to their absentee landlords from abroad. These indigenous peoples were allowed to govern themselves.
In its entirety the population of the precious kingdom was about 250,000. Its leading cities of Jerusalem and Acre had about 25,000 residents (although in the aftermath of the massacre of Jerusalem, only a few streets were occupied and the new Crusader lords were forced to recruit inhabitants from other regions as the crusading army went home). The north of the kingdom was divided into nominally independent provinces: the principality of Antioch, and the counties of Edessa and Tripoli, whose lords were vassals of the King of Jerusalem to their south. With a few exceptions the grand personages of the Crusader kingdom had been the lesser personages of Europe, younger sons of minor households who had no real future on the Continent and had come to the Orient in search of wealth and position and adventure.
Against the seemingly inexhaustible manpower of the Muslim world the Christians had built their formidable network of great castles. This defensive system of strongholds stretched along the coast, and the castles were within sight of one another, so that signal fires could be seen from one to another. By a system of smoke and fire, the great fortress of el Kerak in the Transjordan, for example, could communicate with Jerusalem at night, over a distance of seventy miles. On mountaintops hovering over strategic valleys, these fortresses dotted the landscape at regular intervals.
The military monks, the Templars and the Hospitalers, were the backbone of Christian power. These zealots were former nobles who had given up their jewels and castles and ladies in Europe to take a solemn and chaste vow to defend the Holy Land. For a monk in a Christian order to bear arms spoke to the profound transformation that the concept of Holy War had wrought in the church. St. Martin had expressed the original orthodoxy in the fourth century: "I am a soldier of Christ. I must not fight." To shed blood in combat was sinful, and on no account could a holy man have anything to do with temporal conflicts. The church strictly forbade not only fighting but the bearing of arms.
Posted August 5, 2002
If only things in real life were as black and white as this book portrays events between the middle east and the west. Not to detract from the overall skill with which the narrative was written, the book left me feeling a bit unsure as to the objectiveness of the author. Of course, all history is written with a human bias, but Reston seems to clearly condemn the Christians every chance he gets. To start, this book attempts to be fair to both the western crusaders and the muslim defenders; in depth history is given about both protagonists (prior to their meeting during the third crusade) so we can perhaps empathize with them. However, once we reach the actual events in the middle east, Reston contiunally makes reference to the barbaric and crude personalities of the crusaders from the west. Even their champion, Richard the Lionheart, is said to be too brash and reckless. Even though this may be true, he is not given as much credit for his leadership abilities as Saladin, who is only portrayed as pious, righteous, brilliant, and merciful. Richard is criticized for slaying his muslim captives after the stalled concession talks after his capture of Acre, and rightly so, but Saladin is never belittled by the author when he slays his christians captives after the battle of Arsuf and during the march to Ascalon. This book is not without merit; the author writes in a light, sometimes whimsical narrative. He never gets bogged down with too many details or techinical aspects of the major battles, and keeps the story moving. His heavy reliance on the acounts of bards and court biographers must have made reporting the facts a hard task indeed. But he does a good job with taking the reader on a journey through those sweltering hot days in the holy land. If you are looking for unbiased and footnote heavy information on the third crusade, look elsewhere. If you want a quick novella on the subject, you've found it.
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Posted March 13, 2008
I thoroughly enjoyed Warriors of God by James Reston, despite a few inadequacies i noticed. His inability to make notations for his sources does not do anything for the credibility of his claims, such as his casual references to Richard the Lionheart's supposed homosexuality. This unsupported claim only lowers the credibility of the book. However, coming into the story with only a slight understanding of the events surrounding the Third Crusade, i found the book an extremely well written and engaging narrative. It reads almost more like novel than it does a historical narrative, and i think this is a plus. Altogether, an excellent narrative that gives the story of the Third Crusade in an engaging and interesting manner.
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Posted November 14, 2003
The book is very well written. While it is clearly based upon extensive research, it left me with the nagging feeling that important details had been omitted. It also seems to be a bit biased against the crusaders in general and King Richard in particular.
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Posted April 10, 2012
I couldn't put this book down. Saladin was as calm and confident as any man ever born. Richard was wild and strong beyond imagination. I sense he could snap any man alive today like a twig. Yet they were equals. Fascinating. There is no telling which of these human virtues will prevail in battle. In the end, they agreed to terms.
Reston perfectly captures this tension.
Posted December 24, 2010
The book gives insightful details on the motivation and courageous actions of King Richard 'The Lionheart.' Ofcourse, some Hollywood directors may lament Richard's execution of Muslim prisoners at Acre. They wouldve preferred that he clothe and feed them-and forget about 'The True Cross.' The violence of the Crusades was just a continuance of religious violence. The Muslims wrested the Middle East from the Byzantines and the Europeans returned the favor. The book does neglect to speak about Al Hakim's destruction of the Christian Church of the Holy Sepulchre (1009 AD)-thus disrupting the safe treatment of Christian pilgrims-who had been previously granted freedom to worship.
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Posted September 6, 2010
Mr.Reston's book made me do additional research in medieval archives regarding the chroniclers of the third Crusade He enlightens one about Saldin's notoriety for mercy when he could safely grant it and Richard's egomaniacal quest for power, deceit, and self worth. I knw befor reading it that the Crusaders did many cuel things and were motivated by much more than Christianity namely power, comfort and wealth. Rightfully so for an inavding army that spent much of the time with nohing to occupy it during rainy months then again when they had a clear mission had to waitfor supporting seige engines and other necessary items for the campaign.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 9, 2009
Religion is an undertone for the overall moralizing both sides engage in. Realistically everyone has their own wonderful twisted reasons and ethical strife to deal with.
The machinations and grotesque rationale in any of the compelling reasons to go to war or the siege du jour is reconfirmed.
In order to best explain the political chaos and interrelationships, the book needs to be at least, twice as thick, yet as a conversational book for people to have be somewhat pseudo-intelligentsia, it works.
Posted May 12, 2009
If you're looking for a book that invites you to immerse yourself in the world of the Crusades, then Warriors of God will be a very enjoyable read. However, as a work of history the reader should be sure to inform his/herself before believing everything in this book. While the subjects and their context are well developed, the author tends to make generalizations about the juxtaposition between modern day and historical reality. I've personally heard/read evidence that the muslims at the time did not conceptualize the Crusades as a "East vs. West"/"Clash of Civilizations" conflict; rather the Crusaders were people from a land they din't much concern themselves with who were in the Middle-East as simply another player-among-many fighting for political power. I do not think it is fair to implant our modern day internalizations of the *concept* of Crusade onto a historical analysis of the period. That said, the book IS interesting and you WILL learn about King Richard and Saladin. Both of these personalities are very well defined and portrayed in the text. The author also writes in a very engaging style that make the book very enjoyable to read. As long as the reader sticks to the guidposts of people, places, and things then the book is fine. Just be wary about the motivations and implacations.
The "find a product" feature didn't work, but I assure you that B&N makes a Portable Professor audio course entitled "Sword and Cross". This is what I would recommend you listen to before reading this book.
Posted September 10, 2008
If you are interested in the third crusade, Richard I of England, Phillip II of France, Henry of Champagne, Conrad of Montferrat, Guy of Lusignan, Saladin, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, you will enjoy this book. Nothing beats medieval drama!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 23, 2008
Posted May 22, 2006
The author goes on and on about Richard does show significant knowledge about the guy. However, he shouldn't have used the title 'wariors' in plural since there is not much about Saladin (except military strategies). the book is great for those who enjoy battles, not so much for biography.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 2, 2005
The work by Reston is both thoroughly entertaining and appropriately reflective in its scope and approach to history. The book fleshes out the good and bad of both figures unashamedly. It immortalizes the two titanic figures of the epic war into something close to hero worship, making for great reading. I suggest this work for any who are Westerners and who want to get an unbiased account of the Third Crusade.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 26, 2003
'Warriors of God' was a required summer reading for our school. It turned out to be a very hard read considering the little knowledge of Islamic terms and Christianity-related terms. There's very little support for facts, making it harder for students to comprehend.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 26, 2002
I was very impressed by the painstaking research that went into this work. Reston must have researched every extant contemporary work there is. We seem to live in a time that a work may be considered biased for its failure to lean toward the more popular side in controversy. Reston treats Richard and Saladin as similar characters in their times. I think we do learn a bit less about Saladin than about Richard, but the book gives a clear view of each and the political stresses operating in each camp. I am glad to have read this book and heartily recommend it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 22, 2002
Posted December 26, 2001
Posted October 28, 2001
What was once true remains true! Today, more than ever we need to understand the rival. This book does this with ease. If you want to understand the Arab and the Infidel's tale ...read this book. It has not changed at all!!!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 3, 2001
Excellent scholarship without the heavy lifting to get through most PhD type works. He writes for the casual history liking reader. Truly fleshes out the characters with style. Too bad there is no Saladin in the Middle East today.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 23, 2011
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Posted October 22, 2011
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