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The Era of the Crusades  By  cover art

The Era of the Crusades

By: Kenneth W. Harl,The Great Courses
Narrated by: Kenneth W. Harl
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Publisher's Summary

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?

In these 36 lectures, you'll look 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'll 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. You'll examine 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'll consider the immediate circumstances-the leaders, purposes, key battles, and degrees of success or failure-surrounding these often-monumental expeditions.

You'll 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?
  • Why did the members of the Fourth Crusade decide to sack Constantinople, turning the Crusades from Christian against "infidel" to Christian against Christian?
Taken together, these historically rich lectures are an opportunity to appreciate fully how Western Civilization changed in many profound ways during the Crusading era.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2003 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2003 The Great Courses

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What listeners say about The Era of the Crusades

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Fascinating background

Kenneth Harl’s series of lectures forms a good basic introduction to the Crusades. Seven of them are covered in detail, from the first, with Raymond of Toulouse and Bohemond of Sicily, through the seventh, with Louis IX of France leading a disastrous invasion of Egypt. The battles are described at a high level but with enough detail to be coherent.

But there's a great deal more in here than just the Crusades: as the title suggests, there's also quite a bit about the Era as well. One area where this is especially true is the coverage of Byzantium. Harl provides several lessons’ worth of the history of this eastern half of the Roman Empire and the leaders who pushed its boundaries even further east and north. There are times when he makes Constantinople sound like King’s Landing in The Game of Thrones. Basil the Bulgar-Slayer figures prominently in his account of Byzantine history.

There's also quite a bit about society and technology: the rise of the merchant class, the switch from “two-field” to “three-field” agriculture, the switch from “shell building” to “frame building” in the shipyards, and the development of armored warfare, giant battle horses, and regiments of archers.

Some things I expected to hear are skimmed over in Harl’s lectures. There wasn't much here about the “people’s crusade” and the slaughter of Jews that followed; nor much about the leaders of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. (I have to admit that much of my interest in this aspect of the story stems from the film The Kingdom of Heaven.)

But there's much here that's new and surprising and it's well worth the listen. Harl delivers his material with energy and enthusiasm. Unfortunately he sometimes slips into a “you’re not gonna believe THIS” tone, but mostly he's speaking clearly and engagingly about a subject in which he is obviously an expert - which of course is what you'd want from a Great Course.

I do wish the producers of the Great Courses would ditch the canned applause at the beginning and end of every lesson. The material IS good - we don't need an “applause track” to reinforce the point.

37 people found this helpful

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Erms, ers, ahhs and ems interrupted by content

Any additional comments?

This is the second course I could not make my way through thanks to the "presentation" of the professor. The constant "erms", "ers", "ah", "hmm", the repeated beginning of some sentence or thought, only to then correct what the narrator just said - or sometimes even forgetting what he did say, leaving contradicting statements hovering in the air - literally made me scream out: "GET TO THE POINT".
I managed about 50% of the course, then had to give up. Although I am quite familiar with the topic in general, I was hoping for some better knowledge about detail, political context and maybe even religious (historic) development. To some degree these points do shine through, so the course *IS* about what would have interested me. But the presentation is, in my eyes, highly unprofessional, unconcentrated and out-of-touch with the audience, even if that audience is invisible to the tutor.

I do understand that Mr Harl, as it is pointed out in the beginning of the recording, has achieved prices for "excellence of teaching". I am absolutely sure that he must have a great "life presence", because, for the life of me, his narration can not be the grounds on which the awards were given.

That said, I also have my problems with the content of this course. Just like with another subject I heard Mr Harl lecture about (Vikings), my impression was that he did not really *understand* what he was talking about, but put all his expertise on naming dozens, if not hundreds of characters, most of which had no relation to the topic he was just talking about (or at least he did not explain their importance for the respective detail). In a way, some parts of the course felt like:
"Mrs Adam, who was the daughter of Duke Dunctington, the brother in law of King Casimir, who was known to be the later grandfather of Sir Edward Binepass, and the brother, no, sister, actually the father of the son of Mrs Kunigunde Schwafasel, met Mr Betamax, the son of Charles the unimportant, and had nothing to say to him."

Thanks - but, no thanks. This course did NOT help me understanding the reasons, the contexts or the (long lasting) results of the crusades.

14 people found this helpful

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How the Crusades Changed Three Great Civilizations

Any additional comments?

This lecture series is an excellent overview of the crusades. The lecturer, Professor Kenneth W. Harl, is an excellent teacher and I can highly recommended anything produced by him. If you are a lover of history he offers traditional history teaching at its best.

This series covers the era of the crusades from their origins to the ending of the era of the "canonical" crusades after the 8th crusade of King Louis of France in North Africa. One strength of this lecture series is that the author does a great job looking at the crusades from the perspectives of all of the three great civilizations involved, Western Europe, the Byzantine (Or East Roman) Empire, and Islamic Civilization. This series gives you and incredible sense of how all three civilizations interacted during this era and were influenced and changed by the crusades.

I had a few small disappointments in this series. The author does a very thorough job covering the first four of the eight canonical crusades and their surrounding events. He only really gives an overview by comparison of the last four crusades. As far as other crusading movements, he does give some treatment on the "children's crusades" and the crusade against the Cathars/The Albigensian crusade in Southern France but other crusading events such as the Reconquista of Spain and the conquests of the Germanic peoples and Teutonic knights in Northeastern Europe are given very little if any real treatment. I also think he could have drawn out some of the longterm implications of the crusades a little better. So this series will not offer the comprehensive overview that some might want, but for anyone interested in the topic it will definitely offer an amazing supplement in helping you understand this era in world history. He pulls out details and sides to the topic that probably many other authors miss.

Overall I highly recommend this for anyone interested in the topic. Enjoy your travels in "outremer"!

8 people found this helpful

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Very detailed and informative

What made the experience of listening to The Era of the Crusades the most enjoyable?

I enjoyed how detailed and thorough the information was.

What did you like best about this story?

I truly had a complete understanding about the era as well as the Crusades.

What aspect of Professor Kenneth W. Harl’s performance would you have changed?

Uh I uh would uh have uh changed uh the way uh he uh presented uh the lecture.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

No, neither. But I was irritated because many times throughout when he came to an important point or fact he trailed off.

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Well-written.

The information is interesting and concise. Text is well-written. This is somewhat overshadowed by the presenter's vocal tics (ah and um at every pause).

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I really tried to like this but...

I am a student of history and find it fascinating to learn about eras of which I had no previous knowledge (like the crusades). I have done several of the great courses lecture series, and in general have found the professor engaging, informative, and very educational. While Professor Harl clearly has an excellent command of the details of this era of history, I found his delivery and excessive minutia to be extremely boring. It's as if he's a doctor and can't remember that his patient doesn't understand the doctor jargon being used. Clearly he knows his subject very well, he just can't recall that I may not remember the different eras of the Byzantine Empire at all. I hung in there for a great while but in the end, I just couldn't endure it longer. I can only imagine the stress of the students taking this course trying to remember the minutia delivered for the test, and trying to stay awake in the process.

I left this course knowing little more than I started, and very little indeed will likely remain in long term memory. If you are interested in a much more engaging course I might suggest "The world was never the same, events that changed history" by Professor J. Rufus Fears or "History of the world, a global perspective" by Prof. Gregory Aldrete.

4 people found this helpful

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Mixed Impression; Professor's Style Not a Hit

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

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.

3 people found this helpful

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The Information You Seek Lies Elsewhere

Would you try another book from The Great Courses and/or Professor Kenneth W. Harl?

This course makes me wary to trust another Great Courses subject. But I hope this is solely on an individual basis and not representative of other courses, as I've already purchased one on Alexander The Great. Which I bought before I realized this professor had decided to lecture on the popular side of history rather than on the actual history of history.

Would you ever listen to anything by The Great Courses again?

As stated before, I already bought a course on Alexander The Great. I hope not to be disappointed, but I will be approaching it with low expectations.

What does Professor Kenneth W. Harl bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He spoke in a manner that grabbed my attention. The professor covered lots of information, much that was very interesting. However not all of the information was accurate. The professor decided to cover and lecture on the popular side of history rather than the actual history of history. This was truly disheartening, especially from a professor that has presumably studied in-depth the subject of the crusades. Except he cites nothing.

What character would you cut from The Era of the Crusades?

Modern, popular interpretation of history. This does not mean recent discoveries should be discarded, but that they should be examined with a critical eye. Because one is not necessarily connected to the other.

Any additional comments?

I'm reminded of a Hillsdale College course that would have made this lecture far more interesting and balanced. In which two professors lectured about the Spartans and Athenians and their history and contributions, from the perspective of each. I highly recommend that course if you're interested in either nation's history, by the way. But from a professor who has presumably studied in-depth the subject of the crusades I expected more, of an unbiased account.

3 people found this helpful

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I wish he went into a little bit more details

I wish he went into a little bit more details about the battles that happened in the crusades but other than that it's a really great course full of information

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Good content

A lot of "um" and "uh" could get a bit distracting. But the content was great and speaker was passionate.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Maskull
  • 07-21-20

Wonderful

This is a masterpiece. It comprises so much more than the title implies. It is an insightful, eye-wateringly intelligent and profound study of three centuries of Western European and Near Eastern history told in an infectiously enthusiastic and vivid manner by a gentleman who is clearly a very gifted educator. It is phenomenal value for money.

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  • C. Caughey
  • 01-15-20

Perfect!

My first Great Course. Real surprise by how much I enjoyed this. I am 66 now and dropped out of college without finishing my degree. I lead a very adventurous life. Now that I am in calm waters I spend most of my time in study . Kenneth W. Harl is excellent. Well done Sir!

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  • Mr
  • 05-23-19

Outstanding

another tour de force from Professor Harl. Intelligent, comprehensive and comprehensible. I wish younger me could have spent a semester or two with him.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Mr. C. J. Cooper
  • 11-21-21

Really good overview

I thought this series was highly informative if engaging. The only way it fell down was that there was to much emphasis on events in the Christian world and not enough about what was happening in the Islamic world throughout this era. Nonetheless, I would highly recommend it.

please remember that this is an overview of the period as a whole and not a close look at the military engagements in particular.

1 person found this helpful

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  • A
  • 06-09-21

The definitive account of the Crusades, in context

I have enjoyed so many of Professor Harl's courses that at this point I just buy whatever he puts out. I didn't have any great expectations for this particular course as I have already read a number of books about the Crusades. I was totally wrong. Professor Harl's accounts puts the Crusades into their sociopolitical context, which transforms the narrative and renders infinitely more engaging. This is particularly true of the Fourth Crusade, which is all too often summarised as "Venetian Merchants bad, Crusaders foolish." Learning about the concatenation of events that lead to the sack of Constantinople gave me insights I didn't know I was missing.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Omar Khan
  • 03-11-18

Returned

i love the great courses stories but this one isn't that good. Bad pronunciations of cities and key people (for example nur ad din zanji) , but I can live with that, the main problem is that the story is told in a very scattered and incoherent way.

1 person found this helpful

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  • c
  • 11-08-17

could have been much better

spoken way too quickly with too much information to really absorb. could have been much better if it had slowed down a bit

1 person found this helpful

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  • mr
  • 12-12-14

Okay, a little mediocre

Not a bad overview, I would had liked a lot more detail. As an introduction or as a refresher good, detailed analysis I personaly would look (and have bought how the crusades changed the world) else where. The crusades podcast is genuinely better for details and anecdotes,

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  • Patrick
  • 04-05-22

thoroughly enjoyable

insightful, informative and interesting. very well delivered (with the exception of the continuous wrong pronunciation of Louis.

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  • Michael
  • 02-10-21

Unfortunate Historical Inaccuracies

Listened to this to learn more about the crusades in detail, but unfortunately takes too long getting to the point, rather spending more time discussing the pre-crusade world, eating into time that could have been given to the core subject.
pronunciation of terms, even non historical ones were often wrong or inconsistent, but I could ignore that.
The worst crime were clear historical errors. Specifically the talk of the "Double headed axe" used by the Vikings and English, citing the Bayeux Tapestry as evidence. These are the two handed but single headed Dane axe, double headed axes weren't used, and these single headed axes are clearly the ones on the Tapestry. Professor Harl also calls lamellar armour and Roman Lorica Segmentata the same thing, which they are not.
The man clearly knows his subject well in the broad terms but these mistakes in the finer detail, while perhaps minor, do make me feel less confident in his credibility in the areas I don't know much about but wanted to learn of.

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  • Lachlan Peterson
  • 08-28-16

A facinating listen

Really fantastic. A captivating performance from a good authority with well researched sources. A brilliant piece for anyoen interested in medieval history, and a key turning point in the history of Europe.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-11-22

Very informative

I really enjoyed this book. It was much broader in scope than I expected. It covered the period before and after the Crusades in a broad overview, giving me a much better understanding of the Crusades and their impact on the broader course of Western European and middle eastern history. Shattering some of my misconceptions on the way. The lecturer was good, he was easy to follow and had an obvious enthusiasm for his subject.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-03-22

Interesting

Really interesting subject matter - told in an easy to listen to way. Really enjoyed. Thanks

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  • Sheelagh O'Riley
  • 08-13-20

App will not work

After enjoying the old app for many titles I am very disappointed in the new one. It is difficult to open, cannot find a timer.

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  • Hank
  • 02-14-19

Wow ! brilliant ! absolutely brilliant !

What a comprehensive look at the crusades! Not just the battles, sieges and incursions, but the broader context and implications for : European and Byzantine commerce; nobility, royal and Papal politics; Muslim factions and sects; the terrain of the battles and it's Kingdoms; description of the military technology used such as catapults, the gallies; figures as Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, Pope Innocent III, Basil II, Baldwin IV ... WHAT A FASCINATING JOURNEY AND STORY it's been through this whole series ! ... The lecturer clearly knows this topic inside out and back to front, and often gave fascinating stories and anecdotes all through it which maintained my interest e.g. a Muslim Sulton victorious over an ill-conceived Crusade attack being embarrassed for his huge haul of European prisoners of war, releasing them from capture for a ransom. e.g. s Byzantine empress married and widower 3 times eventually marrying a nobleman who truly loved her only for him to suddenly die from a freak accident of stupidity by falling backwards off a ledge. Fascinating anecdotes litter the lectures. Highly recommend if you really want to get a decent handle on what the crusades were all about !