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?

  • numbers Explore a wide variety of misperceptions and long-debated questions about the Crusades.
  • numbers Learn how trade between Christendom and the Islamic and Byzantine worlds shifted the financial axis of the era.
  • numbers 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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The Era of the Crusades is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 88.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A must for history lovers My impression is that even reasonably well-educated Americans do not know much about the Crusades. It's easy to see why -- the variety of motives, participants, politics, religions, dynasties, and so forth is intimidatingly complex. Probably even those of us who've read a couple of popular books on the subject are familiar with little more than a few famous names. Richard the Lionheart! Saladin! Not unimportant, but only a small part of this amazing story. This course is indeed about the ERA, not the Crusades themselves. There is much more about background than actual battle-by-battle descriptions of each Crusade. That suited me fine. I appreciated the first 12 lectures especially the economic background. I was fascinated by the discussion of why the successful conquest of Constantinople was a very mixed blessing, as well as the lengthy discussion of the results of the 4th Crusade. I wish the course had been twice as long so that Prof. Harl could have included even more detail. Btw Prof. Harl is human and he has his favorites among the many, many personalities involved. You will identify them easily. Some figures who were actually pretty peripheral (e.g. Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine) get more face-time than they really deserve. Or possibly, if the course was twice as long, it would be more apparent why these figures merit mention. In any case, I don't expect historians to have machine-like objectivity. Now that my interest is aroused I'll be reading much more about the Crusades and doubtless will encounter divergent views. One small criticism, the visuals are pretty uninteresting. Basically the same map shown over and over again. While normally I always recommend video, probably you won't lose much value if you get the audio course. If you are already a fan of Prof. Harl, what are you waiting for? Get the course! If he's new to you, this is a great place to start.
Date published: 2018-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I haven't listened yet. I haven't listened yet but since you're bugging me for a review, I'm writing this. I'm sure that with Professor Harl, you can't go wrong.
Date published: 2018-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Professor I bought and viewed this course about a decade ago. I enjoy Professor Harl's presentations as an alternative to TV, movies and other forms of entertainment. He is very informative, funny, and entertaining. If you like history you will love this and the other courses he has prepared for the Great Courses.
Date published: 2018-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another learned course by Professor Harl I have now experienced several courses presented by Professor Harl, and it still amazes me the depth and breadth of his knowledge. He is not just giving outlines of history, but often gets into the "nitty-gritty" of history. The Crusades were mentioned in several of my history courses, but they at best scratched the surface. This course reveals how complex the era of the Crusades really were, including how much of the action reflected the politics of Western Europe and the Papacy, the long-term effect of destroying (Christian) Byzantine Empire, the transplantation of European political structure for a couple of centuries to the Levant (and nearby regions), as well as long-term effect upon the Islamic dynasties. Although production-wise this is one of the earlier courses (as seen in some of the illustrative slides), the content is first rate. I recommend the course for those interested in Middle Eastern historical background as well as for general historical enrichment.
Date published: 2018-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Important insights on cultural/historical impacts This is now a relatively "old" TGC course. The profs taught from a lectern and were free to move around a bit; not the (in my opinion) "robotic" turn-right-turn-left-turn-right choreography the TGC seems to use in the newer courses. The guide book has a timeline, glossary, and biographical notes all of which I think are important and useful. Professor Harl provides a lot of insights into the cultural exchanges and historical consequences of the crusades. He explains the complicated politics in Europe which had a huge impact on the "success" or (mostly) "failures" of the crusades. He also explains the changing politics, economics, and attitudes over the approximately 200 years of crusading that eventually caused Europe to "give up the fight". This course is certainly much more complete than anything I had in high school. This course would be just one of several you would take in college (and TGC has them in stock) if you were a history major of the time period. For the individual wanting to gain more insight into the crusades than you got in your early education, and not able to enroll in a university history curriculum, this course is excellent.
Date published: 2017-11-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Era of Crusades Excellent lectures on interesting topic. Well done!
Date published: 2017-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative Course I purchased this course to develop a greater understanding of what the Crusades consisted of, who led them, and what effects they had on the history of the Middle Ages and the history of Christianity and Islam. I would give the course my highest recommendation. Professor Harl has an unorthodox speaking style. He speaks with an infectious enthusiasm for his material and his delivery (while full of ahs and ums) causes the listener to really focus on what he is saying. His enthusiasm for his subject and his passion for history are compelling. The course is in many ways a history of human folly and hubris. The crusades were a misguided effort by Christians to recapture the Holy Land from its Muslim rulers. Professor Harl discusses all of the important military engagements of the Crusades, including the Siege of Jerusalem and the Battle of Hattin (1187) which turned the balance of power in favor of the turks. You get the impression that he has visited the ancient sites and that he really understands medieval fortifications and how medieval fortifications were used by the Crusaders to make up for their inferior numbers. The course fully describes the extraordinary cruelty of some of the Crusaders who massacred Jews and Muslims upon seizing Jerusalem in 1097. This is an outstanding course, worthy of repeated listenings. Professor Harl has a passion for teaching matched by few teachers, even the excellent teachers of the Great Courses.
Date published: 2017-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved the series This professor is my favorite. Very informative and entertaining. I have listened to all of Dr Harl's courses. This one is one of his best.
Date published: 2017-09-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mixed Impression; Professor's Style Not a Hit The time period of the Crusades intrigues me so even though I own the "How the Crusades Changed History" course I decided to purchase "The Era of the Crusades" not just because I can't get enough of the middle ages but also because I felt like while the other course sufficiently covered the events of the Crusades, it was unspectacular in general and sometimes the difference between an average course and an excellent one (when comparing two courses that cover the same material) is the professor's style or approach. I was right but I learned my lesson via the opposite of what I'd intended: Professor Harl's style made it difficult for me to really get into this course leaving me with a mixed impression of the series. The professor obviously knows his stuff and I like the approach of not just jumping into the play-by-play of the first crusade but instead dedicating the first 12 lectures to provide background of the civilizations involved in the Crusades (Byzantine Empire, the Islamic Caliphates, and Western Europe) and the events that contributed to the Crusades. This allowed for good historical narrative of the Middle Ages (including origins of the Byzantine Empire, the kingdoms of western Europe, and the Islamic Caliphates as well as other nearby civilizations that may be hard to find in other courses: I was not expecting discussions on the Visigoths and Slavic people!). However, the remainder of the lectures (that actually focused on the Crusades themselves) seemed to only contain that engaging historical narrative in pockets and the four main flaws in his presentation style became exceedingly distracting: o Course loses its effectiveness at times because it gets “lost in the details”: the professor provides so many ancillary details on civilizations and events (that supposedly are related to the main point he is trying to make) that it doesn’t take long for your head to spin as you wonder, “What was the main point again? Wish he’d stay on the big picture!” o Because the lectures felt like one long recitation of facts and events in rapid fire style without much discussion of a greater meaning/bigger picture (it appears the professor was trying to get in as much as he could in 30 minutes) this led to abrupt endings to lectures without a conclusion, “winding down” comments, or preview of the next lecture. This was very jarring at times. The sudden round of applause at times to mark the end of a lecture caused me to jump once or twice---no idea he was finished! o Because the professor would seem to rush through sentences and his points, he would constantly get ahead of himself and select the wrong words resulting in him backtracking and correcting himself. We all make mistakes but this became so prevalent and consistent that it became one more distracting element of his presentation style o The professor used a lot of “filler” words including “Uhh” and “Um” which became very distracting as the lectures wore on While I typically like when a profesor gets "really into" his lectures and shows some emotions, with Professor Harl I feel he is better served by reigning it in at times since it is hard for him to maintain focus and at times says very odd things (in one lecture---I think 30---when explaining how incompetent a specific family of ruling Byzantine emperors were he said it would have been better off for the empire if they just killed them and their family off---ummm that's a little harsh). If you are interested in the basics of what went down during the Crusades and a clear articulation of such then I would suggest purchasing "How the Crusades Changed History". If you are a fan of Professor Harl or are just interested in large amounts of facts and tidbits (that may not keep with the general narrative of the Crusades themselves) regardless of the way they are presented then "The Era of the Crusades" is your course.
Date published: 2017-06-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lots of information here I am 2/3 of the way thru and already know I will watch them again. There is a whole lot of information given on this very complicated subject.
Date published: 2017-05-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Crusade While the course content is extremely good, the Professor Hale delivers the information in a less than ideal way. He certainly knows his subject matter, but the repetitiveness of some of his key points as well as some other verbal tics that he has makes long listening quite difficult. I had no problems listening to him for short bursts, such as on my way to and from work in the car. Other than these personal issues with the delivery of the material, I found Professor Hale to have a wonderful grasp of the Crusades and he certainly taught me some things that I did not know before.
Date published: 2017-02-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Just okay. The Crusades Era is pretty vast, and the task of telling a compelling, thematic story of the various all-out invasions, half-baked assaults, failed adventures and dynastic rot might be one of the harder jobs in medieval history. There are so many characters, so many sub-plots, so many places, so many motivations, so many of everything that I found it hard to keep everything straight. Prof. Harl does a good job of explaining things, but I found the production values (audio-only) not quite up to more recent TGC standards. This course might do with a refresh or a second edition to try to tie all of the many things together a little more than this course does. I enjoyed the course overall. But my takeaways from it were fewer than in other history courses I have taken.
Date published: 2017-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gives "Equal Time" to Non-European Civilizations Very good overview of the Crusading Era, with thorough coverage of the three major players and perspectives: Western Christendom, the Byzantines, and the Islamic peoples. I feel the course offers a nice mix of detail and broad scope, both of which improve understanding. I also like the way Dr. Harl occasionally peppers his lectures with his slightly sardonic humor.
Date published: 2016-11-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best I am puzzled how some could write such "disappointed" criticisms. Prof Harl is probably one of the very best lectures in the Great Course series. He is rapid fire and never boring. His wealth of information is immense. I have listened to this course three times and keep learning more each time. It cuts across so many other courses in weaving together the similar time periods and great empires. Go watch The Kingdom of Heaven and come back to this course to understand the context of the movie even better. I have not seen the video that could be updated. I do not know.
Date published: 2016-06-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not a Survey Course audio download version There is indeed plenty of detail in the 36 lectures that span not only the two centuries of the crusades, but also Dr. Harl sets the Crusade stage by beginning 100 years earlier, placing many things in context. Who knew, for example that the ability to even contemplate these massive efforts was due to the improvements in Europe in trade, tools and most especially agriculture. And that (aside from the increased use of iron tools, that agriculture productivity increased markedly by a shift from a two field system to a three field system. If those terms are as meaningless to you as they were to me, take the course. Further professor Harl covers the Orthodox Byzantine empire and Islamic states and empires as well as the more well known (at least to most in West) Christian West. He spends a great deal of time in examining and contrasting the different cultures and details how they interacted with each other and also covers the internal conflicts within each group. Perhaps I'm used to professor Harl's delivery, but his rapid-fire speech combined with the occasional "uhs" really did not bother me. And for those who are put off by his style, you can still enjoy his dry wit and occasional asides. The course booklet has a handful of maps that are helpful, especially if taking an audio version of this course. But I really think that a background on the geography of the region during the Middle Ages will be almost required for those who choose the listening route. There are so many rich nuggets here that might seem to be almost tangential to the subject, but that are still of great value. For example, I was quite surprise to learn that the sack of Constantinople, by the 4th Crusade, led to Pope Innocent III, deciding to suppress the Cathars, first by the Albigensian Crusade and then of course by Inquisition. The whole course is filled with little gems like that. Recommended.
Date published: 2016-05-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from It’s time for a remake According to the study guide, this course was produced in 2003, and it is showing its age. If you have watched more recent Great Courses, you will immediately spot how primitive the visual aspect of this course is. One of the biggest improvements made by TGC in recent years is making the professors address the camera directly, rather than having them pretend there is a class in the room. After a while, it is disconcerting to watch Prof. Harl staring off into space and not at you, the viewer. He also has a bad habit of staring over the top of his glasses. I might as well continue with his presentation while I am on the subject. I have taken several of his courses, and his style and delivery is starting to wear on me. I don't object to the speed of his speech, as others have; I get tired of having almost every sentence punctuated by at least one “uh.” Not only that, but for a college professor, his pronunciation of foreign words (and sometimes English ones) is terrible. Here is just a partial list of butchered words/names: motte and bailey, Tibet, Caliphate, warrior, conjugal, Nicaea, Melisande, John of Brienne, and the most annoying of all, “European” which he invariably pronounces as Euro-PEEN. The visual element of this course consists primarily of maps, family trees, and bullet points related to the current discussion. I have read many books about the Crusades, and I bought this course in order to review what I had learned years ago. On the whole, it was useful in that regard, but I would hesitate to recommend this course to someone who did not already have a fairly good grounding in this period of history. It is very hard to keep the dynasties and generations distinct, especially when so many characters share names. The study guide is helpful, and is much thicker than the guides that TGC is providing these days. It took me a long time to get through this 36-part series, because I simply needed a break after every few lectures. I would not recommend this course in audio format, because it would be even more confusing for a new student of the Crusades. My recommendation would be to wait and hope that TGC does an updated version of this course with higher production values and a more engaging professor.
Date published: 2016-03-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too much irrelevant detail Professor Harl clearly knows the subject... he knows EVERYTHING about the subject... but he doesn't help the student by separating the wheat from the chaff. The main theme and concepts don't come through. They get lost in the details -- there are too many names... do I really need to know the Greek of Latin name for a concept, as well as what it is called in English? The professor often talks too fast as well -- it is as if he knows he can't get all that he wants to say in in the 30 minute format, so he goes faster. So when you are trying to digest a concept, you get lost, because the professor has gone on ahead and left you behind. In a topic I thought I would be very interested in, I have to say I was disappointed.
Date published: 2016-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Buckle up, you are in for a ride I purchased this course because I wanted to fill in the gap in my education. I had no prior education about the Crusades. I thought it would be a bit of chronology, some dates, a few names. Well, lecture one went from zero to sixty in about three seconds. I am humbled by Professor Harl's knowledge and ability to remember so many dates/names/events that are clearly committed to memory, since I rarely saw him using notes. About two lectures in I felt kind of overwhelmed by all of the information, and a bit, well, dumb, in spite of having an advanced degree. I'm not sure if he slowed down a bit in the middle (I think so), or if I just adapted more to the information delivery style. In any case, I truly enjoyed the fact that Professor Harl brought in politicals, scandal, social context, and so much more to really make this era come alive. He is so passionate about this subject, it makes the course that much more enjoyable, even though it is very information packed. If, like me, you really don't have any foundation on the Crusades, I would suggest checking out the Wikipedia page so that you just have a teeny bit of background before starting this course. It will make it less overwhelming on the front end. Also, we found that once we got through the course, we actually went back and watched the first couple of episodes again and they made a nice summary to the course and made us realize how much we actually had learned. I'm looking forward to checking out other courses from this Professor.
Date published: 2016-01-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too Detailed I am rating this course as average not because of any weaknesses in the course, but to call attention to what might be disappointing and boring to some viewers. Imagine for a moment a course whose topic was the cold war between Russia and the United States. One lecture focuses on the past 200 years of the U.S. and another on the previous 200 years of Russia. Is this really necessary? But then when you find similar lectures devoted to France, Britain, Germany, Poland, the Vatican, etc. you may get a sense of my concerns. The first 12 lectures are devoted to histories of the combatant countries going back 200 years, not the actual Crusades. I think that this course really should have been cut down to 18 lectures at most. Now the quality of the lectures is superb, but this course is more about the histories of the region surrounding Jerusalem, and histories of the combatants than it is about the Crusades.
Date published: 2016-01-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Course Focus The course covered the great institutions very well, and some of the innovations that made life, especially farm life better, but I would have benefitted from more depth for life outside the great institutions.
Date published: 2015-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another very fine course from Harl The point most emphasized in this course is the relationship between Byzantium and the Western kingdoms. Professor Harl walks us through the historical transformation of the forces, with the West becoming stronger and the East weakening. When the Western Roman Empire ceased to be – there were no Western kingdoms to really speak of. England was in a state of trying to defend itself against the onslaught on the Barbarian Angles and Saxons. France and Germany were inhabited by German and Frankish clans. Spain was ruled by the Visigoths, but there was no strong political control there per se and they were constantly battling with the native Basque peoples. In the East to the contrary, the Roman Empire went on much as before and was as strong as ever. So at the beginning – in the fifth century - the Eastern Empire was overwhelming strong and developed compared to the West, and it considered itself to be far superior and dominant in every respect: in culture, in political structure, and in military might. It was also far richer - the richest parts of the Roman Empire had always been in the East – Egypt and North Africa. Even with regards to Christian sovereignty the East was dominant – the Byzantine emperor had to approve any new pope before he could step into office. All of this was to change on its head by the end of the Crusades. In the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the Western Crusaders lead by the Italian city states Venice and Genoa decided to change route and instead of trying to conquer Jerusalem from Saladin, sacked Constantinople. Thus the Byzantine Latin Empire was established, in which the West established an Eastern Roman empire based on the Catholic Church and on Western nobility and headquartered in Constantinopole. In fact it was a faltering Empire that never really rose very high, and lasted only sixty years before the Byzantines gained control back over Constantinopole. The Byzantine Empire however, lost its might forever in every respect, and the power balance of East and West was turned altogether – the West would be dominant in every way from now on. This being said, this was not a single event and the changing of the power balance had been going on for some time. The first important point to note is that the East and West had been growing apart for some time. The West had established an autonomous church independent of the secular leadership in the East. Its fledgling medieval kingdoms, primarily England, France and Germany had matured and established relatively stable and strong monarchies and bureaucracies. In the Eighth Century, there was friction between the Churches because the Eastern Church ruled that icons should not be used in holy ritual – too close to Paganism. This erupted into open conflict in 1054 in what is today called the great schism between the two Churches. This conflict continues to this day. In the Eleventh Century, Seljuk Turks from the East succeeded to make huge conquest in Asia Minor. The Byzantines, terrified to lose their Empire altogether, called to their Western Coreligionists and asked for assistance, saying that this could help resolve the Great Schism conflict. What they got was something totally different: the Crusades. During the Crusades, the tensions were greatly exacerbated. The Western Crusaders did not always behave on the best of manners – often killing and robbing the local Byzantine population on their way to Crusade. On the other hand, the westerners always felt that the Byzantine were not on the level. The supplies they were promised by the Byzantines often failed to materialize, and the Byzantines had a tendency to close deals with the opposing Turks and only later telling the crusaders about it. The Crusades, in many ways put the Western Kingdoms on the map. From being poor Barbarian lands with little prospects, the kingdoms became forces to be reckoned with. They were able to make conquests even against the mighty Muslim Empire – a thought unconceivable up to that point, and they grew in force relative to the Byzantines until they overtook them. Another key point is the role of the Catholic Church – it acted in the Crusades also as a political force and not merely as religious leadership. This is the second course I have taken focused specifically on the crusades, the other one being Professor Daileader's excellent course "How the Crusades changed History". As other reviewers have remarked regarding Daileader's course – the name is misleading… It hints that the course is going to be analytical, when in fact it is primarily narrative – describing the story of the Crusades. The last seven lectures are analytical though… The Present course is almost the exact opposite: it presents many different themes of the Crusading era, and dives quite deeply into "how the crusades changed history", but some lectures are narrative in nature. So I would say that the courses do overlap to some extent, but large chunks are complementary and actually mutually strengthen the points lacking in the other. So having heard them both I feel I have come to have a reasonably good understanding of what went on, and why it is important. Professor Harl, as I have come to expect, gave a very good performance in this course. This is my Eleventh course given by him – in fact I have heard every course of his in the TGC so far – so obviously I am fond of his teaching style. He is not always so easy to follow, but he is always brimming with profound insight, and I find him highly entertaining, so the effort is highly rewarded. Another very fine course…
Date published: 2015-02-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Era of the Crusades The information is fascinating but his presentation is pretty minimalist. A few more smiles or changes in inflection would help keep the viewer awake.
Date published: 2014-11-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Crusades My comments in this review are based on having been a University Professor as well as attending lectures, courses and seminars on a number of subjects: sciences, medicine, history, music, etc. There are numerous very good points to Dr. Harl's courses but a few that could be greatly improved in the presentation of the course material. The material is well thought out and clearly comes from an expert in the field. The overall course content is excellent. Certainly well worth the time to view the course and certainly recommended as a course but with the reservations mentioned in this review. Presentation is the main shortcoming of Dr. Harl's lectures/courses. For a full professor by now he should realize that he speaks much too fast (commented on by other reviewers as well), almost as if citing from memory, and at times machine gun like glancing up and down at his notes. His continued use of "AH" is annoying and distracting and could be reduced significantly if he slowed his presentation down. A suggestion: Dr. Harl could use a public speaking course given by a professional which would greatly improve his presentation of lectures and seminars. Once again, The continuous bad speaking habit of ah's are both a distraction and annoying as well as his rapid glancing up and down at his notes. The speed of presentation for many would make it extremely difficult to take notes and for some reduce the ability to completely follow the lectures. True, one can view the video again as well as the provided course notes, but since this is a visual lecture as well as numerous verbal facts presented, the overall presentation could be greatly improved. I expect that this course has been given numerous times throughout his career and Iwould have expected a more polished presentation. At times the impression is as if the lecture is being read out of a book and is too dry, even though Dr. Harl enjoys discussing this material. Overall, a complete transcript of Dr. Harl's courses notes makes this a very valuable course as a well as his other courses.
Date published: 2014-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Great Course by Professor Harl This is my third course from Professor Harl and it is another great course that I would recommend to anybody interested in history. Professor Harl does a great job of explaining what caused the crusades, what happened during the crusades, why many of the crusades failed, and why crusades were discontinued. Professor Harl presents this information in an informative and entertaining manner. His additional commentary makes these courses very entertaining. My favorite lecture in this set is lecture #25 “The Horn of Hattin” especially because his description of the rogues, scoundrels, overbearing females, and incompetents who were key characters in this great battle against the armies of Saladin. This same set of characters continues into the following 4 lectures which also makes these lectures very entertaining as well as informative.
Date published: 2014-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A course leading to understanding the Crusades Once again I bought a course not knowing why I did. Since I have so many TTC courses I sometimes feel like I've run out of courses to buy so I buy ones that I think I *should* buy. And this one opened up a whole new field of information that I am happy to delve into. Professor Harl spends quite a bit of time giving us the background that led to the Crusades. He describes for us issues in Europe, Constantinople, and the Middle East (in other words Roman, Eastern Orthodox and Muslim# that brought about this confluence of events that we call the Crusades. He also brings in to the picture the effects of other groups not normally associated with the Crusades -- i.e. the Mongols. Yes, he goes through the actual Crusades #he did not go blow by blow through all the battles) but I appreciated most his explanation of the effects each of these events had on the parties involved. Professor Harl is so full of information that at times we hear him stumble over his words -- like his brain was working so fast his mouth couldn't keep up. I found this only slightly distracting. In the course guidebook we have 60 pages of reference that is invaluable to the subject. Since I did the audio version the maps were very helpful. [Fortunately I was able to understand what Professor Harl was talking about as I am reasonably familiar with the geography.] The 17 pages of timeline seem to account for almost every year once the Crusades started. [Hey, there was a lot going on.] The detailed glossary and biographical notes round out the guidebook. Now that I have gotten into the Crusades I'm going to have to get TTC's course "How the Crusades Changed History." But that is a sign of a good course -- it makes me want to learn more.
Date published: 2014-04-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from transformed my understanding Surprisingly, the series transformed my understanding of the Levant/mid-East in addition to Europe. Prof. Harl's encyclopedic knowledge of not only Western and Byzantine history, but also of Islam and the mid-East added unexpected insight into the interplay between these three (and more) civilizations. I won't think of the region in the same static way that modern history and reporting suggests. Although the details overwhelmed at times (but I enjoyed the spicier ones on betrayals, infidelities, papal indiscretions and the like), the provided outline/maps helped give us commuters (audio only) a framework. That Harl passionately cares that the Seljuk Turks overran one Byzantine prince or another or the travails of Anna Komnene, makes listening especially fun. Harl's enthusiasm and nuanced history make the series infectious and a delight. Well done/brilliant series!
Date published: 2013-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Visuals in this case are important TTC provides two courses on the Crusades — Dr Harl's longer THE ERA OF THE CRUSADES and Dr Daileader's HOW THE CRUSADES CHANGED HISTORY. How do they compare? 1. NOT PASSIVE ENTERTAINMENT Those of you seeking "you are there" storytelling that builds on our widespread fascination with medieval chivalry and war craft will be sorely disappointed. "Game of Thrones" this is not. Both ERA and HISTORY are sober presentations of the causes and key personalities behind 8 military expeditions over a span of 200 years. ERA in particular devotes the first third of the course to the political, ideological and economic factors behind the First Crusade. These involve distinct geographies and cultures — Byzantium, Western Europe, the Muslim Near East — as well as an invading game-changer: the Seljuk Turks. 2. REQUIRE MAPS It follows that access to maps during the presentation is absolutely necessary. Three geographic areas, many cities that no longer exist, varied trajectories followed by different armies. Audio-only versions will surely frustrate unless you have access to maps as you listen. The DVD of ERA is the ONLY version that gives you that. 3. MODERN REVERBERATIONS IGNORED Despite claims to the contrary, neither ERA nor HISTORY talk about how the Crusades influence the mutual distrust and incomprehension that divides Muslim societies from the West today. Being longer, ERA is more comprehensive. But both are designed for viewers strictly interested in medieval history. CONCLUSION ERA and HISTORY are good overviews from a social history perspective. Neither really dwells on blow-by-blow war stories. To avoid leafing through maps as you listen, the only way to go is the DVD version of ERA. Otherwise, some maps are included in each guidebook — not a practical solution for commuters. I don't understand why HISTORY is only sold in audio form. It is really good if your interest in this topic is more casual.
Date published: 2013-09-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from This Course Gets a Grade C I am going to start with the good first. This course is loaded with information. I agree with the lasted reviewer that it is too detailed, but I believe the good should also be acknowledged. Professor Harl starts with the first third of the course describing the events that led to the First Crusade from the viewpoint of The Western Europeons, The Muslims, and The Byzantines. The Holy Land is also discussed in great detail, and Professor Harl gives us a clear understanding of the impact of the battles and which factions were controlling The Holy Land. The maps on the DVD version are outstanding. My favorite lectures are #13, #18, #26, and #28, which cover the actual battles in the first through fourth crusades respectively. Before I talk about the bad, I will defend Professor Harl. The crusades are not the easiest subject to study. There are so many places involved from not only Western Europeans, Muslims, and Crusaders, but also The Holy Roman Empire, The Normans in Sicily, The Venetians, the Genoese, and of course Outremer, the Holy Land itself. Consider that there were kings and war generals of all of these lands, and you have a very detailed course. Here is where I dock this course of some stars. The first 12 lectures should have been condensed. How many of us really care about the economy of Western Europe before the crusades? Professor Harl spends way too much time talking about kings who played little or no part in the actual conflicts from all of the lands. He seems to want us to know the monarchy of Sicily, Outremer, Byzantium, and everywhere else. He acts as if he has run out of time to discuss the 5th through 8th Crusades and really crams it in. If he would have spent less time talking about monarchies, the economy, and all the trading, we could have gotten more detail on the actual battles. In conclusion, despite all of the faults, there is enough quality material to recommend this course. That being said, I wouldn't jump into the course without exploring the crusades from an outside source first. If I would've known then what I know now, I maybe would've gotten Harl's Byzantine course first and also The Middle Ages courses. I would also recommend reading books on the crusades from Barnes and Noble. I would recommend reading on Wikipedia some of the important people of the crusades, such as King Roger of Sicily, Popes Urban II and Innocent III, Richard The Lion Heart and Saladin, and Alexius I of Byzantium.
Date published: 2013-09-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too detailed I've heard Dr. Harl's lectures on the transition from paganism to Christianity and was very impressed by his knowledge and commitment to the subject. I gave him 5 stars for those lectures. These lectures, however, were done earlier (on the old set) and are way too detailed to make sense of the subject. It was almost a lecture of footnotes. He truly knows his material but the content is more suited to a graduate student already very familiar with the crusades. If you are new to this material try Dr. Daileader's lectures. He has a much better presentation of the major issues and does not get bogged down in minutiae.
Date published: 2013-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Expansive History of the Crusades and More Harl does an excellent job detailing the Crusades. More importantly, Harl does an excellent job detailing religious and political pressures that lead to the Crusades, account for Christian failures in the Levante, and later supported crusades in Europe and in the Levante. In addition, Harl details the Crusades from the perspective of the Islamic kingdoms, and focuses on the economic forces at play during the Crusades, which lead to the proliferation of the Venetians and Genoese. There is a huge amount of information in these lectures. It is somewhat difficult to really get a good handle on all of the information Harl provides, even with the help of the course guide, which as one comentator points out, could use a few more pictures, graphics, and maps. Still, the course is incredible, extremely educational, and very entertaining. The course also provides Harl with an opportunity to flex his history-muscles in two subjects: the history of Constantinople, and the use of currencies. Both serve Harl well, and provide incredible insight into the economies of the Levante and Europe as affected by the Crusades.
Date published: 2013-05-21
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