The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Modern Library Volume 3 of 3)

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 3The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 3 by Edward Gibbon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The finale volume of Modern Library’s three-volume reprint of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire covers chapters 49 through 71 of the author’s vast magnum opus. Beginning with the Iconoclast controversy in correlation with rise of the Vatican and Holy Roman Empire in the 8th century and ending with a description of the causes and progression of the decay of the city of Roman in the 15th century, Gibbon relates in detail the political, martial, social, and theological developments in both Europe and the Middle East ultimately led to the end of Byzantine Empire with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans and the state of the city of Roman at time of the Roman Empire’s complete end.

The majority of the 22 chapters deal with the rise of Islam and the resultant political and martial effects that would ultimately determine the fate of the Byzantine Empire. Although beginning with the Iconoclastic controversy that began the schism of the Christian church as the bishop of Rome rose to power in the West, Gibbon used those developments to launch into how Islam rose in Arabia then spread across not only areas once under Roman control but also their long-time Persian rivals in the aftermath of the reconquests of Heraclius. While detailing the internal struggle within the Caliphate period, Gibbon reveals how Emperors attempted to combat this new faith and military force to increasing little effect has time went on.

The thorough retelling of the numerous political changes throughout Asia that affect the fortunes of the Byzantine Empire shifted the focus away from the ‘Roman’ world to locations as far east as China, but revolutions of people in these areas would play into the fortunes of Constantinople. Also playing into fate of Byzantine was the barbarian Christian West that the Emperors called for aid not only from kings but the Pope as well. Unfortunately the resulting Crusades and mercenary arms that went East would inflict a mortal wound to the Empire in 1204 thus beginning a centuries long death spiral that only lasted as long as it did because of internal revolutions with the growing Ottoman Empire until 1453. This dreary recounting of the end of Byzantium is mirrored by Gibbon in his recounting of the history of the city of Rome itself throughout the Middle Ages until the fall of the New Rome in the East.

This finale volume of Gibbon’s life consuming work revealed the struggle of the Eastern Empire of Byzantium to continue against a succession of Islamic powers and its ultimate demise thus completing the fall of the Roman Empire. Yet in retelling the eventual fall of Constantinople, Gibbon paints a huge picture for the reader about how events both near and far away from the Bosporus affected the fortunes for both good and ill of the New Rome. And in recounting the history of the city of Rome throughout the Middle Ages, a reader sheds a tear with Gibbon about the loss of the monuments of both Republic and Empire due to the necessity or vanity of the people of Rome after for the fall of the Western Empire.

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The Crusades Through Arab Eyes

The Crusades Through Arab EyesThe Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For those in the West, the Crusades were a series of military expeditions that Western Christians launch against Muslims to reclaim the Holy Land, however for the Arabs and the rest of the Muslim world, the Crusades were a shocking event. “The Crusades through Arab Eyes” is a narrative history by Amin Maalouf to give Westerners a glimpse of how the Muslim world in general saw the Crusades as they were happening over two hundred year span.

Maalouf starts his narrative in Anatolia with the beginning of the First Crusade from the perspective of the Seljuk Turk Kilij Arslan defending his kingdom against his neighbors then against what he believed to be “Franj” troops fighting for the Byzantine Empire. However as the Turk sultan was to learn as well as others, these Franj had different plans. Maalouf’s follows the progress of the First Crusade and the subsequent 200 years through the historical writings of Muslim chroniclers and how the Muslim world reacted throughout that period. The vast majority of the book is the history of the Muslim political and religious currents that interacted and reacted with the Franj, who were themselves divided into permanent residents and military adventurers that came and went.

In the Epilogue besides looking at the long-term effects of the Crusaders on the Middle East, Maalouf highlights something that readers will noticed quickly and what I have already alluded to in this review. While the chroniclers were Arabs, the political and military leadership throughout the Crusader era were Turks or Kurds. During the roughly 200 years that the Crusades took place, the native Arabs watched and experienced the forces of two “foreigners” ruling over them which is a very impactful thought to keep in mind while reading this book.

I first read sections of “The Crusades through Arab Eyes” in 2003 for a Middle East history class. Having now read it in full, I can say that seeing it without the Western romantic veneer or viewpoint brings the period into better focus. While not in-depth as some other books might be, this book gives the reader an easy to follow narrative overview of The Crusades “from the other side”.

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Chronicles of the Crusades

Chronicles of the CrusadesChronicles of the Crusades by Jean de Joinville
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Originally I skimmed through this book almost a decade ago in preparation for my Senior History Oral Exam and only focused on the overall theme questions listed in my study guide at the time.  However this past week while actually reading Chronicles of the Crusades and found thanks to the excellent translation, a easy read and very informative on its subject matters.  Of the two chroniclers, I found Jean de Joinville the easier to read because of his style of writing.  Most likely the spread and evolution of romantic literature influenced Joinville’s style of being more down-to-earth and slightly easier to read when compared to Geoffrey of Villehardouin, who was more matter-of-fact and somewhat “stiff.”  However, just because Geoffrey’s style is a little “stiffer” doesn’t mean it’s not easy to read nor informative about the establish and early years of the Latin Empire of Constantinople.  If you’re interested about first-hand accounts of the Crusades, specifically the 4th and 7th, this is the book for you.

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