Post-classical history

The Crusades in 100 Objects: The Great Campaigns of the Medieval World

The Crusades in 100 Objects: The Great Campaigns of the Medieval World

For half a millennium, throughout almost the entire medieval period, the Catholic church sanctioned military campaigns against what it perceived as its enemies. The rise of Islam and its spread across large parts of the Middle East, Asia, North Africa, and even the peripheries of Europe, saw Muslim warriors seize the Holy Land, occupy Jerusalem, and threaten Constantinople. In response, Pope Urban II advocated a crusade to retake the Holy Land – the first of nine military campaigns that stretched over the succeeding 200 years.

Other, lesser-known crusades were subsequently mounted with the aim of Christianizing the more remote regions of northern and north-eastern Europe, as well as against the Cathars in southern France. The advance of the Ottomans into the Balkans saw further crusades to halt the Muslims in Bosnia and Serbia, and the re-conquest of Spain from the Muslim Moors.

Such diverse theaters of conflict have resulted in an equally diverse number of relics still to be found in a score of countries. From magnificent castles, swords, artillery and coats of arms, to Crusader-struck coins and even the brass pen box used by Muslim writers to spread the word of Islam, this remarkable collection of artifacts and structures tells the story, much of it largely forgotten, of the conflicts which shaped the nature of the Western World known today, both in spiritual and geographical terms.

Beautifully illustrated and written by acknowledged period expert James Waterson, The Crusades in 100 Objects opens a window into the past as never seen before.

Emperors, Caliphs and Sultans

The Great Mosque of Cordoba, eighth to tenth century

Carved Ivory Oliphant of the Fatimid Caliphate. Sicily, eleventh century

Turkish Composite Bows, created by twentieth-century master craftsmen

The Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, Merv, Turkmenistan, eleventh century

The Murder of Nizam al-Mulk from a fourteenth-century illuminated manuscript of the Jami al-Tawarikh, the Compendium of Chronicles or World History of Rashid-al-Din Hamadani. Topkapi Palace Museum

Popes, Kings and Emperors

Hagia Sophia and the Grave of Dandolo, Istanbul

The Temple Mount viewed from the Mount of Olives

The Kiss of Peace depicted in a relief sculpture in the tympanum of the church of Anzy-le-Duc, Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy. Probably eleventh century

The Bayeux Tapestry showing Duke William mustering and leading a charge of his Knights, eleventh century

William Marshal at a Joust unhorses Baldwin Guisnes, who survives the bout thanks to his chain-mail armour. From the Historia Major of Matthew Paris, c. thirteenth century

A Youthful Venture

The Staronová Synagoga, Europe’s Oldest Active Synagogue. Josefov, Prague. Completed c. 1270

Trajan’s Column, Rome, showing Roman siege artillery, 113–117

Brass Pen Box showing scenes of Hunting and Falconry. Mamluk Period Syria, probably thirteenth century

The Catapulting of Ibrahim into the Fire in Edessa. Page from an unidentified Ottoman manuscript c. 1600

Plaque from a Portable Altar Showing the Crucifixion and the piercing of Christ’s Flank by Longinus’ Lance. Germany, Lower Rhine Valley, eleventh century

La Gerusalemme Liberata

Jet and Ivory Chess Pieces from the Western Islamic World, ninth to eleventh century

The city of Maarat al-Numan’s destroyed mosques following its uprising and subsequent bombardment by Syrian pro-government forces in late 2012

Pisa Cathedral and the Camposanto, eleventh century

Erminia tends to Tancredi’s wounds, Alessandro Turchi, c. 1630

Pilgrims at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, 2019

I Will Not Spare These Proud Egyptians

A Fatimid Armlet with Kufic script, probably Syrian, 909–1171

Astrolabes from Al-Andalus, 1050–1080

The Throne of Charlemagne. Palatine Chapel, Aachen, c. 790

A Berber Warrior of the late nineteenth century

Turkish Archers’ Thumb Rings, Topkapi Saray Palace, fifteenth to sixteenth century

Securing the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

Crak De Chevaliers, Syria, twelfth century

Karak Castle, Jordan, twelfth century

The Great Seal of the Grand Masters of the Knights Templar, showing the order’s symbol of two knights on one horse, c. 1158

The Walls of Malta, sixteenth century

Portrait of Alof de Wignacourt, the Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John, Caravaggio, c. 1607

A Muted Response?

The Minbar. These examples are from the late medieval period

The Great Mosque of Damascus, c. 705

The Mantle of Roger II of Sicily, with Islamic Motifs, probably produced in Cairo, c. 1133–1134

The Assassins’ Creed Game and Media, twentieth to twenty-first century

The Arab Horse. Timeless

Backyard Jihad and Détente

A Chalice carved from Rock Crystal. Fatimid workmanship with later Parisian mounting. c. 1100 and 1225–1250

The Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul before and after its destruction by the Islamic State, late twelfth century and 2019

The Arsenal of Venice, twelfth to fifteenth century

Reliquary Casket made from Fatimid rock crystal plaques, c. 1200

A Damascus Sword Maker. ‘Whose swords were once considered the finest in the world’, c. 1900

The Martyr and the Saint King

Greek Fire in the Codex Græcus Matritensis Ioannis Skyllitzes, twelfth century

A Writing Case from the Jazira, with plaques showing the planets in character, thirteenth century

The Ivory Cover of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem’s Psalter, c. 1135

Counterweight Trebuchets, an invention of the early twelfth century

Camels carrying Projectile Weapons in Afghanistan, c. 1988

Of the Deaths of Great Armies and of Imaginary Realms

Coats of Arms, Cathedral of Saint Barbara, Kutná Hora, Czech Republic, fourteenth to nineteenth centuries

Details from Turkish Bows of the type that destroyed the armies of the Second Crusade, sixteenth-century examples

The Battle of Inab, by the fifteenth-century miniature painter Jean Colombe

Prester John in a Few of his Many Manifestations, from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries

The Douane, Dogana, and Customs Post, an idea, for good or ill, taken from the Diwan of the Arabs to Europe and beyond during the Crusades

Monarchie Franque et Monarchie Musulman L’equilibre

Al-Azhar Mosque, Cairo, c. 970

The City of Alexandria

A Polo Game: an Illustration from the Divan of Mir ‘Alishir Nava’I, Iran, sixteenth century

Yemen, Saladin’s bolthole, should all his plans come to nothing

Saladin remains a potent icon for unity and resistance in the Arab world, despite the Sultan being a Kurd. This movie poster advertises, The Search for Saladin

Fortune Makes a King

The Hakawati, a Traditional Syrian Teller of Arabic Stories and Reciter of Legends

The Assassin Castle of Maysaf in Syria, twelfth century

Devalued Dinars: Crusader and Arabic coinage of the twelfth century, Iraqi banknotes of the twenty-first century

The city of Jeddah. Its merchants’ houses reflected the city’s wealth and the fact that it was, and is, the gateway to Islam’s holiest cities

Poster for the Movie Saladin and the Crusaders, 1963. Often seen as a celebration of Colonel Nasser of Egypt, who wished, and failed, to replicate the Sultan’s deeds

Rose Petals in al-Quds

A Reliquary holding a piece of the True Cross. Twelfth century

A Statue of Saladin celebrating the Sultan’s victory at the Horns of Hattin, Damascus, inaugurated in 1993

Naptha Grenades, a Greek invention, honed to perfection by the Muslims

The Massacre at Acre. From the Chronicle, Overseas Passages by the French against the Turks and other Saracens, attributed to Jean Colombe, fifteenth century

The Chertsey Abbey floor tiles of the thirteenth century. Said to depict Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in Combat

Daggers, Détente and Deceit

A Statue of Richard Couer De Lion from 1856, Houses of Parliament, London

Soap from Aleppo, a luxury enjoyed by Crusaders, and their ladies

The Two Tombs of Saladin in the Great Mosque of Damascus. The original twelfth-century wooden sarcophagus, and an early twentieth-century marble gift of dubious aesthetic value donated by Kaiser Wilhelm II

An Ayyubid-period incense burner with Christian iconography, a rare example of cultural exchange between the Crusader kingdoms and their Muslim adversaries

The Capella Palatina, Palermo, Sicily, twelfth century

New Jerusalems and New Enemies

The Four Horses of the Constantinople Hippodrome in their current home of the museum of the cathedral of San Marco, Venice, c. third century

The Basilica of Christ’s Blood, Bruges, twelfth century

A Mamluk Bombard or Grenade, carrying remarkable engraving and artistry for what is essentially a bomb, thirteenth century

Modern-Day Celebrations of Ponies and Bactrian Camels, the animals that helped to create the Mongol Empire

The Eleventh-Century Friday Mosque in Qazvin. Men, women and children were slaughtered in concentration camps that the Mongols set up outside Qazvin during their destruction of the Assassins Order. Even babes in their cradles were murdered

Islam Saves Europe, but at a Price

A Lustreware Plaque from an Iranian Ilkhanid mihrab c. 1300–1350. Vicious Mongol persecution of Islam had, by the turn of the century, been replaced by conversion

Mamluk Helmets, or possibly Ottoman copies made to revere the Dynasty that Defeated the Mongols

Banners of Mamluk Sultans, used to rally and to direct the best soldiers of the Middle Ages

The King of Jordan’s Circassian Bodyguard. Distant blood brothers to the Mamluks of the Crusades era

Mamluk Emirs’ Blazons on Buildings in Jerusalem, on Metalwork, on Cairo Window Grills and Textiles; Enduring signs of the dynasty’s obsession with rank and power

Walls Come Tumbling Down

The Crown of Thorns, originally housed in Saint Chapelle, Saint Louis’s purpose-built repository for the holy relic. Rescued from Notre Dame Cathedral during the blaze of 2019

Mamluk-Style Quivers, their wide mouths and large capacity enabling rapid delivery of vast volumes of arrows

A Mamluk Mosque Lamp, decorated with the name of the patron who commissioned it, the emir Tankizbugha

A Mamluk Brass Bowl with Silver Inlay. The lotus, a motif brought from China by the Mamluks’ deadliest enemies the Mongols, became almost ubiquitous in Islamic art after the thirteenth century

A Portal in Sultan al-Nasir’s Mausoleum in Cairo. The arch was taken as booty from the Crusader church of Saint Jean in Acre by the Mamluks in 1291

Old Enemies, New Enemies

The Giostra in Arezzo, Italy. Twice a year, the knights of the Crusader Kingdom are remembered in a joust undertaken by competing quarters of the city against their old enemy, Il Saraceno

An Anatolian Carpet with Animal Designs, c. fourteenth century

Statues of John of Matha, Felix of Valois and Saint Ivan on Charles Bridge, Prague. The work honours the founders of the Trinitarians, an order that redeemed Christians in captivity under the Turks, and Saint Ivan, the patron saint of the Slavs, 1714

The Chapel of the Holy Cross, Karlstejn, Czech Republic. Emperor Charles IV created the room to represent the New Jerusalem described in Revelation 21, c. 1350

A Ceremonial Sword of the Order of the Dragon, a Catholic order created by Sigismund of Hungary in 1408. Its members swore to combat heretics and the Ottomans

The Slow Death of Chivalry

Fifteenth-century War Wagons were decidedly unheroic and stood against all notions of chivalry, but they afforded vital protection for infantry and handgunners against cavalry and could also transport artillery shot and other tools of ‘modern war’

Tombstones of Heretics: Bogomils in Bosnia and Cathars in Carcassonne, thirteenth century

Eisenstein’s 1938 film Alexander Nevsky, in which Teutonic Knights are equated with the contemporary Nazi state of Germany, and the invading German armies of 1914. The presence of coal-scuttle helmets on the Crusader infantry and swastikas on the mitres of the Catholic bishops drove home the message of colonial feudalism being defeated by Russian folk heroes

The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, Seville. Its bell tower ‘La Giralda’, is a minaret built by the Almohad caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf in 1198 for his grand mosque, with later Christian additions

The Hussite Warlord Jan Žižka on Vítkov Hill in Prague. Planned in 1937, completed in 1950

A Long Shadow

Vast Mosques and Extensions to the Body of Hagia Sophia. Ottoman contributions to the greatest city of the medieval age

The Sacro Monte of Varallo, Italy. Started in 1491 and added to until the seventeenth century, so that those, ‘who could not go on a pilgrimage might see Jerusalem’

A Salt Cellar with Portuguese Soldiers and a Caravel. Carved from ivory in Benin c. 1600

Troops of the British Indian Empire. Cavalry on the Tigris and Infantry in Jerusalem, 1917. Their British commanders are also seen here mixing with fellow Italian and French officers to listen to a Franciscan monk preaching

Nazi Propaganda. Saint George draped in swastikas killing the dragon from a book about ‘heraldry’, and a Nazi Crusader Knight standing against the unholy faith of Bolshevism

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