Armies of Heaven
The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse
By Jay Rubenstein
(Basic Books, Hardcover, 9780465019298, 424pp.)
Publication Date: November 2011
Categories: Europe - General
At Moson, the river Danube ran red with blood. At Antioch, the Crusaders their saddles freshly decorated with sawed-off headsindiscriminately clogged the streets with the bodies of eastern Christians and Turks. At Ma’arra, they cooked children on spits and ate them. By the time the Crusaders reached Jerusalem, their questand their violence had become distinctly otherworldly: blood literally ran shin-deep through the streets as the Crusaders overran the sacred city.
Beginning in 1095 and culminating four bloody years later, the First Crusade represented a new kind of warfare: holy, unrestrained, and apocalyptic. In Armies of Heaven, medieval historian Jay Rubenstein tells the story of this cataclysmic event through the eyes of those who witnessed it, emphasizing the fundamental role that apocalyptic thought played in motivating the Crusaders. A thrilling work of military and religious history, Armies of Heaven will revolutionize our understanding of the Crusades.
Jay Rubenstein is an Associate Professor of Medieval History at the University of Tennessee. A former Rhodes Scholar and MacArthur Fellow, he lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Jonathan Phillips, Professor of Crusading History, Royal Holloway, University of London, and author of Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades
“Impressive storytelling—Rubenstein carries the reader through this epic with real panache, lucidly conveying the giddying ebb and flow of faith, emotion, politics and brutality that so characterized the First Crusade. A powerfully argued contribution to our understanding of the people and the times of this landmark event.”
“The First Crusade has been a source of fascination from the late eleventh century down to the present. Recent historians have analyzed this epochal event in terms of demography, economics, secular politics, ecclesiastical politics, and ecclesiastical theory. Jay Rubenstein asks a refreshing question: How did the thousands and tens of thousands who joined the sacred undertaking view it? His fascinating answer is that most of these crusaders were convinced that they were living at the cusp of the end of days, at the point in time when the world order would change dramatically. Rubenstein’s insights will profoundly enrich our understanding of the First Crusade, its glories, and its horrors.” Kirkus Reviews
“An engaging, cautionary account emphasizing the consequences of untrammeled irrationalism.” Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“[A] rich harvest of legends and writings from the period, often apocalyptic in nature, that give us a keener insight into the minds of those who lived these tumultuous years. Rubenstein offers up a heady mix of soldiers and prophets, militants and supplicants, weaving it all into a wonderfully readable account that puts flesh on the story. A satisfying and highly recommended read in every respect.”
James Reston Jr., BookForum
“Jay Rubenstein’s Armies of Heaven is a beautifully researched, well written, and highly accessible account of the first Holy Crusade, recounting it through the lens of eschatological theory…. In unflinching detail, Armies of Heaven walks us step by step through the process of ‘taking the cross’: the preliminary pogroms against Jews, the mobilization of the armies, and their ever more violent and uncontrolled adventure to Constantinople and beyond.”
San Francisco Book Review
“The book is about as raw as the stories beginning told. Rubenstein found a great way to tell an exciting story built on an extensive historical foundation…. This work is a perfect blend of military and religious history, with some great inner politics on the side. It is a brilliant piece of work and would be the shining jewel to a historian’s shelf.”
“Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse is a surprise delight, rich in firsthand narrative and detail that will inform and charm both the casual and the demanding reader. . . . [An] accomplished medieval historian has done all the hard work so anyone can enjoy the narrative. And what a narrative it is!”
Washington Independent Review of Books
“Rubenstein has accomplished something rare among historians residing in academia. His crisp writing has resulted in a book that is accessible to any intelligent reader, not just to other historians. As he says, the military events of the First Crusade have been known for a long time. He has taken something much more abstract — the Christian mysticism that compelled and impelled these soldiers and pilgrims, mostly tribesmen from what is now France and Germany, and Normans who earlier had invaded and settled in France and southern Italy, to do glorious battle on their way to Jerusalem — and skillfully makes these concepts concrete for the reader. Armies of Heaven is a book well worth a campaign through its pages.”
“This is a page-turning narrative of adventure. There are pauses just long enough to deal with the reader’s disbelief and amazement at the successes of a holy war that should have failed. It’s a good story, with plenty of characters, suspense and action…. Even from a distance of a thousand years, it stings the conscience to realize what lies beneath our relationships with the Middle East.”
“Evocative, compelling and thoroughly researched… Rubenstein’s account maps the emergence of the strongly supernatural millennial worldview as the Christian armies crossed cultures.”
Christian Century “A lively, engaging, well-researched, beautifully written book that explores the history of the First Crusade. Rubenstein has a gift for making thousand-year-old history both exciting and relevant. The world of the crusaders was very different from our own, and yet some of the major issues driving their quest resonate today.”