The Era of the Crusades

Course No. 390
Professor Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
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Course No. 390
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What Will You Learn?

  • Explore a wide variety of misperceptions and long-debated questions about the Crusades.
  • Learn how trade between Christendom and the Islamic and Byzantine worlds shifted the financial axis of the era.
  • Discover what social and political circumstances led to the end of the Crusades.

Course Overview

The Crusades have been hailed as the driving force that brought Western Europe out of the Middle Ages—and condemned as the beginning of European imperialism in the Muslim Near East. But what really were the Crusades? What were the forces that led to one of history's most protracted and legendary periods of conflict? How did they affect the three great civilizations that participated in them? And, ultimately, why did they end and what did they accomplish?

A Crucial Chapter in the Story of Western Civilization

In The Era of the Crusades, Professor Kenneth W. Harl looks at the "big picture" of the Crusades as an ongoing period of conflict involving Western Christendom (we would now call it Western Europe), the Byzantine Empire, and the Muslim world. From this perspective, you will study the complex but absorbing causes of the Crusades, which include the many political, cultural, and economic changes in Western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.

In addition, Professor Harl presents the Crusades in terms of the specific military campaigns—the eight "canonical" Crusades that took place from 1095–1291—proclaimed to retake Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslim hands and return them to Christendom. You will consider the immediate circumstances—the leaders, purposes, key battles, and degrees of success or failure—surrounding these often-monumental expeditions (they could number as many as 100,000 soldiers and religious pilgrims).

This course is an opportunity to appreciate fully how Western Civilization changed in many profound ways during the Crusading era. You will understand how the Byzantine Empire collapsed; how Western Europe began its rise to global political, economic, and cultural power; and how the Middle East became a majority Muslim world.

You will also explore a wide variety of misperceptions and long-debated questions about the Crusades. Did the popes preach the Crusades as a way to increase their personal power and authority? Were the Crusader armies made up of zealous and brutal religious fanatics or of highly disciplined soldiers—heirs to a sophisticated Western European military tradition? Why did the members of the Fourth Crusade decide to sack Constantinople, turning the Crusades from Christian against "infidel" to Christian against Christian?

An Era of Adventure, Chivalry, and Legend

This three-part, 36-lecture course is as sweeping in scope as were the Crusades themselves. Professor Harl delves into fascinating aspects of history, all related to the Crusades, that make each lecture a new adventure. These include advances in shipbuilding that were spurred by the Crusades, the types of weapons and military tactics used in battle, and the legend of "Prester John," a mysterious eastern king with whom the popes hoped to form an alliance against the Muslims.

You will appreciate the opulence of the "Queen of Cities," the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, a city that conveyed a sense of awe-inspiring ceremony and splendor to the Crusaders and other visitors. Attending Mass in the city's cathedral, the Hagia Sophia (now a mosque), was said to be so stirring that a number of Russians converted to Christianity out of the simple conviction that God must dwell in such a magnificent church.

You will examine the organization and purpose of the Hospitallers and the Templars: the Knights of the Hospital and the Knights of the Temple. These "soldiers for Christ," a unique mixture of clergy and warrior, played an instrumental role in defending the Holy Land and in operating its banking system.

What makes the Crusades so attractive to study is that they are like a great novel. This is a time in history that is the source of many of our notions of adventure and chivalry and that is peopled with colorful and renowned figures. Those you will meet include:

  • Odo of Bayeux, a churchman who fought in the Crusades but still maintained his beliefs against shedding blood. Instead of a sword, he used a mace to simply hit his opponents in the head and give them a concussion.
  • Louis VII of France, the pious and monkish king who slept on a bare stone floor, worried constantly about his sins, and viewed the Second Crusade as a means to personal redemption.
  • Eleanor of Aquitane, one of the most brilliant and engaging women in history, whose adventuresome nature led her to join the Second Crusade, accompanied by a personal court that included maidens dressed as Amazons.
  • Saladin, the great Kurdish-Muslim conqueror whose victory at the Battle of Hattin in 1187 ended the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Through his gallantry and generosity toward his enemies, Saladin, a Muslim, ironically came to be seen as the epitome of Christian chivalry.
  • Richard the Lion-hearted, the son of Eleanor of Aquitane and heir to a family tradition of participation in Crusades. Considered "the perfect knight," handsome and with a fondness for gambling, jousting, and tournaments, Richard fought Saladin to a stalemate in a relationship of mutual respect and admiration.
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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Heirs of Rome
    This lecture defines the Crusades, examines popular perceptions, and looks at the civilizations involved: Western Europe, Byzantium, and the Islamic world. x
  • 2
    Byzantine Orthodox Civilization
    In 1000, in law and politics, Constantinople was the New Rome. In letters, arts, and aesthetics, it was akin to classical Greece. In contrast to Western Europe, its nobility stressed proper comportment and education. x
  • 3
    Byzantine Zenith in the Macedonian Age
    The Byzantine Empire stood as the premiere Christian power under Basil II. The majestic image of imperial Constantinople long endured, influencing Crusader and Muslim perceptions until the fateful sack of 1204. x
  • 4
    The Failure of the Heirs of Basil II
    The collapse of Byzantine power opened Asia Minor to conquest by the Seljuk Turkomen. Alexius I and allies from Western Europe launched the First Crusade. x
  • 5
    Abbasid Baghdad and Fatimid Egypt
    The Abbasid caliphate fragmented in the 9th century. The Fatimids swept across North Africa, conquering the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. x
  • 6
    The Coming of the Seljuk Turks
    Tughril Bey and his Seljuk Turks entered Baghdad in 1055 and recognized the Abbasid caliphate. The Seljuk sultans ("guardians" to the caliph) raided Byzantium, with unexpected victory at Manzikert in 1071. x
  • 7
    The Recovery of Western Europe
    The Crusades are often depicted as a migration of peasants and unwanted sons of nobles. In fact, the Crusades were made possible by the economic recovery of Europe. x
  • 8
    Kings and Princes of Western Europe
    In 1095, none of the three great monarchs of Christendom assumed the cross. Instead, dukes and counts, who owed fealty for their lands in return for military service, set out as leaders of the First Crusade. x
  • 9
    Warfare in Western Europe
    On the eve of the First Crusade, heavily armed knights dominated the battlefield of Western Europe. x
  • 10
    The Papacy and Religious Reform
    Pope Gregory VII disputed the right of Emperor Henry IV to invest bishops, and the ensuing Investiture Controversy redefined the medieval church. x
  • 11
    Piety and Pilgrimage
    Since the 4th century, Christians yearned for the spiritual renewal gained from visiting the holy places. Pilgrimage, fused with Germanic warrior ethos and Christian ideals of holy war, resulted in Crusade. x
  • 12
    Christian Offensives in Spain and Sicily
    In the 11th century, border wars against Muslims in Spain, Sicily, and the Western Mediterranean were redefined as part of a wider conflict between Christendom and Islam. x
  • 13
    Alexius I and the First Crusade
    In 1092, Alexius I Comnenus appealed to the Western princes and Pope Urban II. Alexius struck a chord: Urban launched the First Crusade. x
  • 14
    From Clermont to Jerusalem
    On July 15, 1099, members of the First Crusade stormed into Jerusalem, slaughtering Muslim inhabitants. The princes saw victory as God's favor, and carved out principalities in defiance of oaths to Alexius I. x
  • 15
    Conquest and Defense of Outremer
    Baldwin I—crowned king of Jerusalem on the death of his brother, Godfrey of Bouillon in 1100—imposed his suzerainty on Antioch, Edessa, and Tripoli. His successors inherited a splendidly run kingdom. x
  • 16
    Frankish Settlement of Outremer
    At King Fulk's death, perhaps 50,000 Western Europeans ruled three million residents of Outremer. While many natives disliked Frankish rule, they prospered. x
  • 17
    Comnenian Emperors and Crusader Princes
    Comnenian emperors John II and Manuel I mounted expeditions to assert imperial rights over Crusader Antioch. They thus were distracted from their more deadly foes, the Normans and Seljuk Turks. x
  • 18
    The Second Crusade
    After the fall of Edessa to Nur-ad-Din, King Louis VII of France and German King Conrad III led the Second Crusade. The Crusaders' defeat at Damascus left Nur-ad-Din free to unite Muslim Syria. x
  • 19
    The Empire at Bay
    Manuel I inherited an empire at bay. In 1176, he suffered a decisive defeat by the Seljuk Turks at Myriocephalon. The Franks of Outremer not only soon lost their best ally in Manuel, but henceforth could be reinforced only by sea. x
  • 20
    The Rise of Saladin
    In 1169, Saladin occupied Cairo. He secured Muslim Syria and northern Iraq and proclaimed a new holy war against "the Franks of the coast." x
  • 21
    Byzantine Recovery under the Comnenians
    In 1092, Alexius I restored imperial prosperity. Comnenian emperors funded expensive wars, diplomacy, and patronage. But the Crusaders envied imperial wealth. x
  • 22
    A Renaissance of Byzantine Letters and Arts
    Comnenian emperors revived imperial patronage of letters and arts. With the capture of Constantinople, Westerners initiated a cultural exchange that contributed to the Florentine Enlightenment. x
  • 23
    Trade and Currency in the Mediterranean
    By the mid-12th century, Venice, Genoa, Palermo, Marseilles, and Barcelona emerged as conduits of trade between Christendom and the Islamic and Byzantine worlds, shifting the financial axis from Constantinople. x
  • 24
    Cultural Exchange in Gothic Europe
    Chivalry and courtly manners were defined by Crusading. This spirit was imbued in the first great vernacular literary monuments of Gothic Europe—chansons de geste, Arthurian romances, and the cycle of the Ring. x
  • 25
    The Horns of Hattin
    King Guy de Lusignan suffered a crushing defeat at the Horns of Hattin on July 4, 1187. Saladin overran Outremer and entered Jerusalem in triumph. x
  • 26
    The Third Crusade
    After Hattin, the kings of Christendom embarked on the Third Crusade (1189–1192). Richard the Lion-hearted recaptured the ports of Outremer, but not Jerusalem. x
  • 27
    From Jerusalem to Constantinople
    Pope Innocent III called for the liberation of Jerusalem, but members of the Fourth Crusade (1198–1204) wanted to capture Constantinople in the name of faith. x
  • 28
    The Sack of Constantinople
    Did the Crusaders sack Constantinople out of ambition and jealousy? Western perceptions and misunderstandings certainly influenced their crucial decisions in 1202–1204. x
  • 29
    The World of Frankish Greece
    The Frankish dukes of Athens and Princes of Achaea offered token fealty to Constantinople. They promoted an opulent world of tournaments and troubadours. x
  • 30
    Splinter Empires and Orthodox Princes
    After the sack of Constantinople, Theodore I Lascaris organized a Byzantine government at Nicaea. Michael VIII Palaeologus sacrificed this state to recapture Constantinople in 1261. His son Andronicus II led Orthodox subjects hateful of Latin rule. x
  • 31
    Ayyubid Egypt and Seljuk Anatolia
    The Ayyubid sultans built a new political order in Egypt, Syria, Al-Jazirah, and Mecca and Medina. Simultaneously, the sultans of Konya integrated Anatolia into the Muslim world. These two states laid the foundations for the Ottoman Porte destined to end the Crusades. x
  • 32
    Crusader Cyprus and the Levant
    An impressive array of European nobility led the Fifth Crusade (1217–1221). The Sultan al-Kamil contained the Crusaders at Damietta, forcing their withdrawal. Afterward, the Lusignan kings turned to exploiting domains in Cyprus. x
  • 33
    Venice and Genoa
    In the 13th century, Venice and Genoa turned their Levantine and Byzantine ports into commercial empires. They preferred trade with Ayyubid and Mamluk Egypt and Syria, and opposed papal appeals for crusades after 1291. x
  • 34
    The Mongols and the Legend of Prester John
    In 1220, Jenghiz Khan was greeted as the heir of Prester John, a mighty Christian lord. But the Mongolian invasion of Eastern Europe terrified Christians. The Crusaders faced a resurgent Mamluk Egypt. x
  • 35
    The Royal Crusaders
    The Fifth Crusade (1217–1221), Sixth Crusade (1228–1229) under Frederick II, and Seventh Crusade (1246–1254) led by St. Louis IX, King of France, all failed. The Christian fortresses along the Levantine shore were doomed. x
  • 36
    The Passing of the Crusades
    The Mamluk sultans overthrew Ayyubid rule in 1250. The Mamluk general Baybars virtually eliminated Crusader rule in the Levant by capturing Antioch in 1268. The end came in 1291, when the Mamluks stormed Acre. x

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Your professor

Kenneth W. Harl

About Your Professor

Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
Dr. Kenneth W. Harl is Professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he teaches courses in Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader history. He earned his B.A. from Trinity College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. Recognized as an outstanding lecturer, Professor Harl has received numerous teaching awards at Tulane, including the coveted Sheldon H. Hackney Award. He has...
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Reviews

The Era of the Crusades is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 87.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb - Period This course is simply fabulous. The professor communicates every bit of the cultural richness of the period. You gain an appreciation for the personalities, the military, cultural, and diplomatic issues, as well as the great religious issues that we normally associate with the Crusades. Professor Harl has a great sense of humor, and knows how to make it work, so that the material never gets dry. My wife and I listened to parts of this course more than once, and it stimulated us to look further into other sources. It wasn't just good education; it was a great listening experience.
Date published: 2013-03-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A lot (of good stuff) to absorb This is a really interesting course with a wonderful lecturer. It goes through an enormously long period of history without being just a superficial overview. That is both it's strength and it's "weakness". I learned more about the politics of the period than I ever could have imagined, and had some very interesting (if sometimes unspoken) lessons (e.g., people in power haven't really changed very much over time). However, the shear magnitude of the topic and the very detail which makes it so interesting also leads the non-expert to be rather overwhelmed at times. I found myself eager for the short interludes wherein, for example, the lecturer talked about the ordinary life of the period, rather than the next intrigue and war. There is a real danger here of not seeing the forest for the trees. Certainly, with more familiarity with the material, this might be alleviated. But although I would recommend this as an almost definitive set of lectures on the topic, I don't think I have the energy to listen to it again.
Date published: 2013-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A+ My only wish would be that there were more of the professor's great material on the crusades. He has a subtle sense of humor, and a realistic perspective that work well together.
Date published: 2012-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Spellbinding Professor Harl's lectures on the crusades are an excellent continuation to Professor Daileader's series on the middle ages. These lectures give a good overview of much of the same period with a clear, detailed and enthusiastic discussion of one facit of that period. Professor Harl brings to life the violence and intolerance of the crusades. He also shows how the interactions with the Islamic world changed Europe.
Date published: 2012-10-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The first Teaching Company course I've taken twice I own a couple of dozen of your courses. I've listened to most of them once. This is the first course I've taken twice. I consider Ken Harl to be the very model of a Teaching Company professor. While his speaking style is not as engaging as some other TC profs, he keeps his politics and opinions out of every course I've ever listened to. That said, his delivery is quite adequate despite some unusual pronunciations and despite the fact that he's not as captivating as some of your other profs. But since I bought these courses for instruction rather than entertainment, this is not much of a drawback. His lectures are absolutely packed with information. Most of it excellent. There's usually not a lot to quibble with in his choice of facts or their interpretation. I see a third listen in this course's future.
Date published: 2012-08-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worthwhile! Professor Harl is extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic regarding the topic at hand. He pedagogically begins each lecture with a clear statement of the elements that are to be covered. Given he does not read out a set text, the lectures sound relatively lively and natural. This has the setback of generating some hesitations, grammar mistakes and small confusions. Saint-Denis for instance is mentioned as being located on the Île de la Cité in Paris whereas it is 30km away and probably confused with the Sainte-Chapelle. Also, many words are systematically mispronounced. For example, Holy ‘Supplica’ is said for Holy Sepulcher and ‘Gweeskard’ rather than ‘Gheescard’ for Guiscard. The overall planning of the lectures is perhaps questionable, very little attention being given to the seventh and eighth. Despite its shortcomings, this lecture series provides a wealth of information on a period of history that is often overlooked and is certainly recommended for all interested in the evolving relations between the Western and Islamic worlds.
Date published: 2012-06-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mixed This is in many ways a very interesting course. I have a number of problems with the professor. He consistently mispronounces words. He mumbles. He randomly throws at lot of information at you. He is obviously extremely knowledgeable, but his style of presentation can be frustrating.
Date published: 2012-05-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Extensive, but omitting some key areas PRO: Let me start by saying I felt this was one of the strongest courses in the history category of "TGC." Professor Harl was excellent in his enthusiastic presentation of the material, the level of detail, root causes and other events which helped explain a time in history that is often very misunderstood. Normally when you read or listen to a treatment it tends to be very one-sided and therefore the bias unfairly shades the topic. This is NOT the case with Professor Harl. K.H. gives you the "straight" history and the multi-layered approach allows you to really understand the clash of culture, history, politics, etc. CON: Professor Harl is very enthusiastic and knowledgeable in this area of study and you will appreciate that. However he has a horrible "um" and "uh" pattern that is obviously a public speaking issue. As the lecture series continues it becomes less noticeable but it never goes away and in the beginning is very distracting. Another area of critique of Professor Harl is his use of language. Twice you uses the expression "for the hell of it" which far be it for me to demand puritans teach university classes but I felt it was a bit unprofessional in presenting university level material. The expression is harmless enough but it is a bit tacky. Finally, what make the course great also makes for my final critique. Since Professor Harl is giving you the straight history he also gives a very unsatisfactory treatment of "Jihad." If you took Professor Harl's line of reason about Islamic conquest and conversion of Asia Minor you may be led to believe that Jihad was presented by peaceful monastic-style Imams that presented Islam to people who felt the need to convert on matters of real conviction of faith. In reality, "Jihad" especially in the conquest stages of Islam was far from peaceful when it came to conversion of local inhabitants. Again, I didn't think that professor Harl was trying to ignore realities rather his sticking to the "facts" glossed over other realities that help understand the era of the crusades. Perhaps he could have dedicated a lecture of the religious fervor of the east and west? Conclusion: Despite my few critiques, this is an excellent lecture and I would listen to other lectures from Professor Harl. If you want to get a comprehensive series on the crusades this series was worth the purchase.
Date published: 2012-05-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from EXTREMELY DETAILED BACKGROUND INFO Solid, very informative and detailed, in fact there is probably far too much detailed background information provided. I found that it was fine to forget much of the lead-up material, and to concentrate on the actual Crusades themselves. I am not suggesting here that the causes of the Crusades should be ignored! The professor punctures his presentation with "ah", "um" and "er" continually: a real turn-off for me, though some students are able to handle this well. Unfortunately, Dr Harl has little charisma to offset it. Overall this is a valuable course and I am thankful to The Learning Company for producing it. Recommended certainly.
Date published: 2012-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Excellent History, a Fascinating Story Professor Harl is one of The Great Courses' most outstanding professors, and - as usual - I recommend his course highly. And it does not simply cover the Crusades themselves - far from it. The first twelve lectures could be a stand-alone introductory course on the relationship of Christianity and Islam in the Early Middle Ages. It covers a vast amount of material, but with Dr. Harl's usual clarity, eloquence, organization, and erudition. And this particular aspect of this era is too often glossed over in more general histories. The remaining twenty-four lectures provide a superb, and detailed, recounting of all aspects of the Crusades - not simply the mechanics and battles, but also the very varied motivations for them, the individuals involved, the effect on the peoples and lands through which they passed, the reasons for their successes and failures, and their short and long term economic, political, and religious consequences. (Speaking of detailed - since my objection to the profuse detail in Prof. Harl's course on Alexander was apparently not appreciated, I should mention that I listened to Alexander on CD. I viewed The Crusades on DVD and found the detail much more of a positive than a negative. It is still there, however; I feel the DVD version makes it much more interesting and easier to follow.) A few negatives: - Professor Harl's excellent lecture style suffers from one flaw - he speaks with such energy that he often forgets to take a breath, and the words at the end of many sentences often lose volume nearly to the point of inaudibility. - The course concentrates on the Christians, devoting significantly less time to the Muslims. I want to be clear, however - the course is not biased for or against either religion; it takes an admirably objective and even-handed approach. We are simply given much more material about the Christian side. I would not want to have missed any of that, but - even if it required lengthening the course - I wish we had been provided as much information about the Muslims. Overall, an outstanding course about a fascinating area of history.
Date published: 2012-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unimaginable History... As some author once wrote, "You just can't make this stuff up! Truth is stranger than fiction." The truth of the History of the Crusades, presented in this course, is fascinating (to those of us who knew almost nothing about it) and almost unimaginable. Dr. Harl is a great speaker who manages to tell one of the greatest stories of History, about the Crusades. Why they happened, what happened over the 200 years of the Crusades, why they happened the way they did. The effects on western Europe, the Byzantine Empire, and the Islamic world of the time are described. There are many surprises in the course, including the effects on today's world..
Date published: 2012-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from With Violence so enlivened, who needs PPV? With Medieval Violence so enlivened, who needs Pay-Per-View? Kenneth Harl has perfected the art of historical narration in a way I have never experienced anywhere else. By far my favorite Teaching Company instructor, Professor Harl has created for me a fantasy world of heroes and legends, and one I shall never hope to escape. I liken this course to Professor Harl’s course on the Vikings: he uses a similar, well though-out organization; delivers with the same passion for the stories and their consequences; and carries equally ambitious goals. Professor Harl does MUCH more than just lecture on the crusades. He describes the transition from “Dark Age” Europe into the chivalrous Western Christendom of the High and Late Middle Ages. Professor Harl also hits hard on the rise of the Turkish Islamic Institutions and their impact on Europe and the Middle East, as well as the fall of the Byzantine State to both Western and Eastern foes. Besides the worth this era has as an essential piece to a complete understanding of world history, the crusades are fun and memorable! With the help of legends told by the contemporary authors, Professor Harl has, once again, enlivened my dreams with visions of heroes, conquest, heresy, adultery, treason, and martyrdom. I love medieval history, and Prof. Harl is the best there is to deliver that history unbiased and with passion, humor, and respect.
Date published: 2011-08-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A "life and times" of the Crusades This is a review of the MP3 lectures. The main point I'd like to make in this review is that this is not a course on The Crusades. Indeed, as other reviewers have pointed out, this course focuses largely on the Byzantine Empire, her relations with Western Christiandom, Islam, and the Pope and incipient Crusader Kingdoms. The course also addresses, by association, developing Papal authority, the evolution of seaborne trading empires such as Venice and Genoa, and the evolution of the definition of a "Crusade". The course also addresses issues of Islam authority (such as it is, administered by the Caliphate). These are all interesting and engaging topics. However, the time spent on events such as the Crusades themselves, the logistical issues surrounding them, the characters who led them, and the events that took place in the Crusader Kingdoms themselves - in other words, a traditional military history - are given only marginal treatment. I cannot emphasize this point enough. The question of how the First Crusade came to be is adequately addressed, and I'd say the First Crusade itself is sufficiently covered in about two lectures. The Second and Third Crusades are covered in substantially less detail, and the overview of characters such as King Baldwin et. al. feels just like that - an overview. The Fourth Crusade is given adequate attention and rightfully addressed as a turning point in the Crusades. The Fifth and Sixth Crusades are treated as distractions in the wider view of events at the time, and the Seventh and Eighth Crusades are hardly mentioned. I belabor this point heavily because I read similar things about this course beforehand and thought to myself - 'of course! That's great - I'd love to learn more about the Byzantine Empire in that era, because I'm fairly ignorant of that subject as well.' What I didn't realize is that this depth of instruction on the ERA of the Crusades comes at the expense of coverage of the Crusades themselves. Now, let me make one thing clear - this is still an exceptional course. But, as a Medical Student, time is in short supply, and I'm always looking for high yield lectures. I was really hoping for a detailed military history on the Crusades against a background of 'life and times' information. I now understand the period of the Crusades very well - the origin of the religious tension, the political development of Crusader Kingdoms, the large role that the Byzantine Empire played in the development, continuation, and termination of the Crusades - but I lack almost any knowledge of the military events of the Crusades. This knowledge of the times arms me with the ability to peruse books on The Crusades with an understanding of the greater truth - you know that point where you no longer have to take an instructors' word for something, but understand enough of what they're speaking about that you can draw your own conclusions independent of their biases? - but I have to peruse that military history on my own. For example, Western attitudes and treatment of Saladin are addressed fantastically - but was Saladin really a great commander? We're told he was a great strategic thinker, but I don't believe we were treated to a single example of his application of tactical genius. The rivalry between Saladin and Richard the Lionheart was, we're told, a "great Cat and Mouse game." We're told the game ended in a bittersweet treaty because Richard had troubles at home. That's it. We're not enlightened with any knowledge of the battles either fought. I've listened to many, many TC lectures. This was one of the few lectures that left me unsettled. The course is strongly in need of a Second Edition; the audio quality is substandard, (you can hear noise each time Dr. Harl begins a word, something I've noticed in several earlier TC courses,) the first third of the course is littered with an obnoxious amount of "um," and "uhhh," that have become unacceptable in Dr. Harl's later lectures. Most pressing, however, is the need for a 48-lecture treatment of the subject - an additional 12 lectures would allow more than adequate treatment of the military history of the crusades while permitting inclusion of all the same "life and times" information which, while essential, currently crowds out the military history that myself and many other reviewers are longing for. Again, I'm left unsettled. Dr. Harl is such a fantastic storyteller, the subject matter is so interesting, and yet, there is a fantastically large, gaping hole in these lectures. I would strongly recommend the course to anyone who isn't well-read on medieval history from 1100-1300 and is interested enough to still be reading this review - in fact, if you've made it through this review, you're probably interested enough in the subject that you should purchase the lectures. But, my stronger recommendation is that the Teaching Company produce a Second Edition of these lectures.
Date published: 2011-08-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Dry I like the Professor, really like Medieval history, and love the teaching company audiobooks. (I've probably listened to 20 of them.) With that said, I found this one tough to get through. It may be the subject matter--lots of names and places that were simply too foreign to me or seemingly not of interest to me--or it may be how it was packaged. I tried repeating disks. Somehow, it simply wouldn't stick.
Date published: 2011-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another winner from Prof. Harl Harl is one of my favorite professors given his vast knowledge, evident passion for the material, and ability to present history in a compelling way. I found "Era of the Crusades" excellent; I listened to the CD version. I previously had decent knowledge of Roman, Byzantine, Muslim and Medieval history, and some high-level knowledge of the Crusades per se. I very much like the way this course covered each of the major Crusades in some detail, but did so in context. Harl first sets the stage in Western Europe, Constantinople, and the Islamic world. He goes past the actual Crusades to wrap up with the vast changes the Crusades brought to the political order in Western Europe, the Islamic world, and the little that was left of the Byzantine Empire. I particularly enjoyed the integrated treatment of the Mongols and their effects on the Muslim world as well as the Christian attempts to enlist the Mongols as allies against the Muslims. All in all I now have a much deeper understanding of these 200+ years of history. As usual in Harl's course, he covers the main events and the key personalities. The story of the Crusades is full of nobility and heroism on all sides, as well as amazing incompetence and foolishness. There are rogues and wastrels too, and this course is full of fascinating profiles of key people. I have always liked Harl's speaking style -- he conveys energy and excitement, and I always have the impression that he's literally throbbing with information and enthusiasm for the material. I think this course is excellent for both someone totally new to this era of history and to someone already familiar with it. I have a couple more Harl courses to take -- by which time I hope he produces some more.
Date published: 2010-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE This review is of the DVD series. I've shared the course with friends who find it as delightful as I did. Dr Harl is one of my favorite lecturers in the Teaching Company stable. He doesn't disappoint with this one. Along with a solid presentation of the facts and personalities, as well as meaningful graphics, his sense of humor adds immeasurably to the pleasure of learning about this period of history. This course is recommended to students, teachers, "liberal arts drifters," and those who wish to learn something about the Crusades with all its achievements and warts.
Date published: 2010-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb We bought this course after enjoying Professor Harl's excellent course on the Byzantine Empire, and found this to be even better. He does a wonderful job of integrating pictures and diagrams into his lectures, all accompanied by his incomparable sense of humor. Lesson 14 stands out as the best college lecture I have heard, worth the cost of the course standing alone. Since taking this course, we have ordered others featuring Professor Harl, a real favorite in our family.
Date published: 2010-06-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Enough I think that probably the value of this course depends on your familiarity with Medieval history. I also think that this course has an inappropriate title and is therefore misguided. Let me start by saying that Professor Harl is an EXCELLENT lecturer, with an extrodinarliy vast wealth of knowledge. I totally appreciate his inclusion of details about the peoples, economy, and geography of his subject. This is my third course by him and as usual, I am impressed. That being said, his strength ends up being his weakness, because he has way too much information here, and I am baffled as to why it is titled "Era of the Crusades," it should be titled "Pre-Crusader Era Byzantium, the political and religious history of the post Arab/Turkish invasion Middle East, Western European religious, economic, and policital history in the century preceeding The Crusades, and the Crusades themselves." Does that give you an idea of what I'm getting at? I have a fairly broad knowledge of the Middle Ages, and have read an exceptional, epic account of the Crusades by Zoe Oldenbourg, so much of this info was superfluous. ESPECIALLY on Byzantium. The reign of Basil the Second is pretty much completly unrelated. So to sum up, I learned a great deal, but found myself yearning to learn more about the amazing characters and events of the Crusades, for the ACTUAL Era of the Crusades could easily take up 36 lectures and keep one entertained. Balwin the First, Elanor of Acqutaine, and the seige of Antioch are literally given marginal references, which is really a disservice to anyone who is learning about this era for the first time. Overall yes, I would recommend this, but not to anyone, like myself, who knows anything of detail about the Middle Ages, Byzantium, or the Crusades. But if you are new the teaching company or Medieval History, this course is invaluable. But please, if this IS an intro, PLEASE reseach further, there is SO MUCH left out about the actual crusades.
Date published: 2010-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A True History of the Crusades This is another tour de force for the wonderful professor Kenneth Harl, who seems to have mastered all there is worth knowing on ancient and medieval history of Europe and the Near East. This is a mind-opening study, in which the mythical romance of the Crusades drops away and the reality of two centuries of largely futile combat is revealed. If you are considering buying this course, note that the title -- The Era of the Crusades -- was chosen carefully to convey its content. This course focuses on the political and social history of the Crusades; it is not a military history or a history of Crusader military conventions, weapons, or battle tactics. Professor Harl begins his lectures with the status of the Byzantine empire in the 800s, and then discusses the political, economic, military, religious and social factors that both caused and influenced the Crusades through the end of the 13th century. Battles are discussed mostly for their political and social impact; with the exception of major battles like Hattin, troop movements are generally not discussed. Also, professor Harl does not go into the religious knight orders like the Templars or Hospitaltiers in any detail. A word about format -- I purchased the DVD version of this course, which is worthwhile for the color maps professor Harl uses to orient the student to time and place. If you choose the CD or MP3 audio versions, make sure you spend some time reviewing the maps in the course guidebook to become familiar with the locations mentioned throughout the lecture. Lastly, let me point out that the course guidebook is excellent standing all by itself. Time and care went into the preparation of the guidebook. The major points of each lecture are summarized in outline form in relevant detail. Also, professor Harl included a timeline of significant events beginning with the founding of Constantinople in 325 A.D. through the capture of Acre in 1291, a glossary with place and people names, and a 12 page bibliography for future study.
Date published: 2010-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enthralling introduction to a novel era I had never studied the Crusades, but had wondered just how the heck these odd events got geared up and undertaken. The reasons are more complex than I imagined, and I particularly liked Dr. Harl's interweaving of the Islamic and Orthodox view of this very European undertaking. A long and serious introduction, this is one of the few lecture series I have "rewound" and listened to certain topics again before moving on. The professor is not unclear, but the topic is complex. Bully for TTC for having such an in depth introduction.
Date published: 2009-08-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The Era of the Crusades This course is disorganized, stuffed with unimportant historical data and savoring in extra marital affairs. The material would make for a good Fox movie and should be given to People Magazine. The big picture disappears in questionable information. Truman Capote would have loved this.
Date published: 2009-08-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Overview, but Light on Battles This course is a fine overview of a legendary period of history full of gallantry, chivalry, and bigger-than-life characters. Professor Harl digs into the entire "Era of the Crusades," just as promised. As such, the course provides a great deal of background on cultural, political, and social trends within Western, Byzantine, and Islamic societies during the entire 200-year era. Many prominent and very colorful characters also are discussed. For my taste, the course was a bit heavy on background material and a bit light on the actual battles. For example, the professor doesn't get to the First Crusade until Lecture 13 -- a third of the way through the course! It turns out that the description of the First Crusade makes the most exciting lecture of the 36. Actual fighting during most of the other seven crusades is dealt with rather briefly. This approach to the Era is Professor Harl's choice, of course, but I for one hoped for less social and political commentary and much more on strategies and tactics used on the battlefields. Still, the cultural commentary is necessary to understand the historic period. More time spent on battles would have lengthened the course. All in all, this is a very worthwhile course but not exactly what I, personally, had expected. 4.5 Stars, rounded down. Get it on DVD, as the visuals are essential.
Date published: 2009-06-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from save your money I had this tape in my car player for months and couldn't even get through the first volume... the professor's favorite word is "ah" or "um"... drove me batty to try and listen. I also thought the presentation overly erudite and too focused on the trees to see the forest. One of those persons who continually drops names of this or that king or whoever that someone not familiar with middle eastern history of that era would never hear - or remember. Not a good story-teller.
Date published: 2009-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another great Harl course Like his courses on the Barbarians, Byzantium, Pelopnesian War and the Vikings, Harl has a gift for making history that we don't know much about interesting and clear. The Crusades I believe are under studied and under taught. This is a valuable intro and an especially good complement to his Byzanatium course
Date published: 2009-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and Entertaining Prof Harl's enthusiam and knowledge of the material is easily apparent. What I released was how little I knew about the Crusades, the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim Caliphates.
Date published: 2009-03-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Crusades Made Dull This is a remarkably dry and prosaic overview of what should have been a fascinating course. If ever a historical period lent itself to a standard narrative and chronological approach, it is The Crusades. Instead, Professor Harl is all over the map, surveying this, explaining that. The course never picks up any momentum. His voice also had a soporific effect on me. I think a good series of lectures could be made on The Crusades. This isn't it.
Date published: 2009-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Historical Story Telling The best courses to listen to present an interesting topic in an fascinating way. The Crusades are very interesting, Dr Harl's presentation is fascinating, and the result is a story very well told. The Crusades are complicated, especially when trying to keep the various players straight but Dr Harl is up to the task. His lecturing is comprehensive and comprehendable. Like all of Dr Harl's courses, this a course that will keep your attention while teaching from the first lecture to the last.
Date published: 2009-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Recommended Prof. Harl is a delight - very knowledgeable in many areas. His expertise is featured in this series on the Crusades since he presents "both sides of the question." He discusses the Christian perspective and the Muslim perspective. Because Harl has already done courses on the Byzantuim, on the Vikings (and their influence on Europe), and on Rome/Barbarians he is uniquely qualified to explain the intricacies of the Crusade era. This is not so much a discussion of the campaigns and battles of the Crusades as it is a social history of the complex factors of the Crusades on Western (and quasi Eastern) civilization. All of Harl's courses are excellent and highly recommended.
Date published: 2009-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fanatastic A great lecturer at his best. Deserves 6 stars out of 5.
Date published: 2009-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A real adventure This is definitively a fantastic course. I have listened to it twice, and will surely come back to it again. Professor Harl's extraordinary storytelling is completely adictive. It really makes these lectures what they are. Love the fluidity, depth and the humor. A must have.
Date published: 2009-03-01
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