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Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Faith,…
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Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors: Faith, Power, and Violence in the Age… (2014)

by Brian A. Catlos

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A decent introduction to the history of the Mediterranean which manages to be informed by the most recent scholarship while still accessible to the interested lay reader, though the prose rarely rises beyond the serviceable. Catlos' thematic approach helps give a sense of the interconnected nature of the medieval world—of ethnic diversity, pragmatism, violence, and cultural innovation—particularly in the chapters on Iberia, which I believe is the author's area of speciality. He emphasises that faith was only one of the factors which drove the Crusades, and perhaps not even one of the primary ones. I could see this being useful as a textbook in an upper-level undergrad seminar on the topic (it's perhaps too dense and dry for lower level general courses.)

Catlos does attempt to incorporate women into the narrative, which I appreciated. Sitt al-Qusur, a twelfth-century Egyptian princess who helped to thwart a palace coup and avenge her brother's murder, was a particularly fascinating individual. However, there were some ways in which Catlos framed women's actions that made me wince, and a couple of spots in which he was flat out wrong, most notably when it comes to assessing the nature of medieval women's power and authority. He writes that "[i]n northern Italy and southern France, women could inherit noble titles and even rule as countesses and duchesses—the most famous example being Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine, Crusader and queen consort of France and England" (274) which can surely only result from a lack of familiarity with the past thirty or forty years of work on women's history. The countess Blanche of Champagne would surely beg to differ—as would sisters Jeanne and Marguerite of Flanders, both of whom ruled as countesses, both of whom were known as "of Constantinople" because of their father's brief rule as Latin emperor of that city, and neither of whom are mentioned in this book. ( )
  siriaeve | Apr 6, 2016 |
the story of the frontier between Dar-al-Islam and the West has a couple of basic stances. The relatively hardliners who say that the overriding concern on either side of the line was religious purity, and the more relaxed group who believe that there were other, more personal concerns that led to the violent outbreaks. Brian A. Catlos, who concentrates more on Norman Sicily and the Hispanic peninsula than Outremer, has collected a number of examples that he believes demonstrate that while religion was a factor, it can be seen only as a contributor, or a convenient additional charge, rather than the primary driver, in these conflicts. The book is reasonably well researched with some small errors regarding the Comnenian Byzantine empire, and western familial relations among the Crusaders. But it is useful for its Hispanic and Sicilian information, and the prose is occasionally lively and always clear. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Mar 8, 2016 |
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To Henri Pirenne, am early-twentieth-century Belgian historian, it was clear that the destinies of the Islamic and Christian worlds were deeply intertwined, although, like the great majority of European scholars until recently, he imagined the relationship as primarily one of aggression and opposition.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0809058375, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:12 -0400)

"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 ofdifferent 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 ofMahdia, 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"--… (more)

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