The Era of the Crusades : The Great Courses: Medieval History

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Kenneth W. Harl
  • Series: The Great Courses: Medieval History
  • 18 hrs and 20 mins
  • Lecture

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

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.
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- Tad Davis

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.

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- Marc

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-08-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses