Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors

Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors

Faith, Power, and Violence in the Age of Crusade and Jihad

Book - 2014
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"An in-depth portrait of the Crusades-era Mediterranean world, and a new understanding of the forces that shaped it. In Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors, the award-winning scholar Brian Catlos puts us on the ground in the Mediterranean world of 1050-1200. We experience the sights and sounds of the region just as enlightened Islamic empires and primitive Christendom began to contest it. We learn about the siege tactics, theological disputes, and poetry of this enthralling time. And we see that people of different faiths coexisted far more frequently than we are commonly told. Catlos's meticulous reconstruction of the era allows him to stunningly overturn our most basic assumption about it: that it was defined by religious extremism. He brings to light many figures who were accepted as rulers by their ostensible foes. Samuel B. Naghrilla, a self-proclaimed Jewish messiah, became the force behind Muslim Granada. Bahram Pahlavuni, an Armenian Christian, wielded power in an Islamic caliphate. And Philip of Mahdia, a Muslim eunuch, rose to admiral in the service of Roger II, the Christian "King of Africa." What their lives reveal is that, then as now, politics were driven by a mix of self-interest, personality, and ideology. Catlos draws a similar lesson from his stirring chapters on the early Crusades, arguing that the notions of crusade and jihad were not causes of war but justifications. He imparts a crucial insight: the violence of the past cannot be blamed primarily on religion"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York :, Farrar, Straus and Giroux,, 2014
Edition: First Edition
ISBN: 9780809058372
Branch Call Number: 909.07 Catlos 2014
Characteristics: xvii, 390 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm


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Mar 12, 2017

Don't bother. In the time it takes him to finish a sentence, you could have launched, completed, and returned from your own crusade. He's obviously biased against the west and their history, and way too lenient on Muslims and theirs. He makes up motivations for historical figures while admitting the historical proof for the intentions is way too sparse. I give him kudos though for giving a brief look at slavery and the prime roll Muslims played in it. I give him one reluctant star.

Nov 17, 2015

This fantastic history is both a great read and an eye-opening look at a fascinating part of history. The two chapters on al-Andalus are outstanding, and Catlos, an expert on the treatment of medieval minorities, is particularly good on the realities of Jewish experience (including the diversity within those communities, how power functioned within them, and a realistic approach to the 1065 massacre in Granada grounded in the response of Jews of the time).

And his approach of looking at several different cultures, both Christian and Muslim, across the Mediterranean, shows commonalities that other historians miss. As he moves from al-Andalus to Norman Sicily to Fatimid Egypt to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the reader realizes just how intertwined (and similar) the politics of all these places were, no matter whose religion ruled.
Unlike many other popular writers on this subject, Catlos doesn't dumb down what actually happened to prove a political point, and as a result the people of the past come alive in their full complexity, as complicated as we are today. He's also one of those rare academics who can really write for the general reader, and includes imaginative set-pieces that bring the story alive.
Only in the final section on the Kingdom of Jerusalem & the Crusades can I imagine a general reader being overwhelmed by the detail--but the reality is that the infighting between the Crusaders as they allied with different Muslims rulers and made messy dynastic marriages were incredibly confusing. Catlos' account is actually much simpler & easier to follow than other books aimed at general readers.
Highly recommended!

Dec 21, 2014

"Compromise and negotiation were preferred over extremism and extermination, and princes and kings pursued their political goals with relatively little concern as to the religious identity of their allies and enemies."
I like history, but this book felt as if were meant more for the scholar/student than for the general reader. Four of the quotes on the back are from professors, which maybe should've been a clue. The Crusades remain a powerful metaphor and in the post-9/11 world, plenty of commentators are quick to reduce the conflict between the West and the Middle East as simply a cultural clash that has been present for centuries and will never be resolved. Catlos, a professor at UC Boulder, delves into the religious, social, and cultural complexities of this period and shows that politics and conquest were as much motivating factors as religion and that Jews, Christians, and Muslims did coexist, and even, in some cases, fought together. It's an important argument he makes and he adds a great deal of context for the modern reader, but too often I got lost in the endless string of names, dates, and places. Karen Armstrong's "Fields of Blood" also makes an argument that the Crusades and other "holy wars" were about much more than simply religion.


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