The Crusades Controversy: Puting Old Myths to Rest

Feeling Cornered

Has anybody ever asked you about the Crusades and what you thought of them? Chances are, somebody has. I myself was confronted with this question some years ago and to be honest, I froze. I felt embarrassed since I had no idea what to say in response.

Certainly the topic of the Crusades is not something most ordinary people have  devoted much thought and study to. It’s not one of those events in history that lots of people are losing sleep over. And yet, some of us wish we’d been better equipped to answer questions about it!

30 Minutes Is All You Need

Thomas F. Madden is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University. He has written several scholarly works on the history of the Crusades and the impact they’ve had in our modern world.

Thomas Madden
Thomas Madden

His most recent work on the topic is a very short and accessible 50 page booklet called The Crusades Controversy.

In six short, but by no means simplistic, chapters, Madden has managed to provide us with enough information to clear away the most common misconceptions and distortions many people still hold about the Crusades.

Two portions of the booklet deserve lengthy quotations.

“the Crusades….were a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslim armies had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point Christianity as a faith and a culture either defended itself or was subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense.”

“The eighteenth century saw the rise of the Enlightenment with its strict emphasis on rational thought, religious tolerance, and anticlericalism. In an intellectual atmosphere like that the medieval Crusades did not fare well…the Crusades were described as a bizarre manifestation of medieval barbarism in which thousands of the deceived and the foolish marched through rivers of blood in a pitiful attempt to save their souls. In his famous Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–88), Edward Gibbon insisted that nothing good at all came out of the Crusades, except perhaps Europe’s exposure to more sophisticated Eastern cultures.”

These two quotes are among the many excellent take-away points of the booklet.

Now you can answer the questions!

I highly recommend Madden’s little booklet The Crusades Controversy. It’s a superb and easy to digest introduction to a topic around which there is much misinformation and even disinformation!.

At 50 pages, you can read it easily in one sitting. I can’t think of a better way to give yourself a sound basic knowledge on this intriguing topic. Enjoy your reading and help set the record straight!

What History Was I Taught?

This is the question I am asking myself while reading Warren Carroll’s second volume in his history of Christendom series: The Building of Christendom.  This volume covers something like 300 AD to 1000 AD, and I am reading about 600 AD to 800 AD.

What happens during these centuries?  Well, if you were like me and learned what I did in my (public) junior high and high schools:  No clue.

If you are not like me and actually learned history, you would know that Muhammad founded the religion of Islam and, beginning with a small group of men, began conquering towns in the name of Allah.  And shortly thereafter, as more and more were added to their numbers through conquest, the Muslims invaded more cities and countries and, in an astonishingly short period of time, had invaded and conquered as no other nation or group had since Alexander the Great!

The Muslims made it as far as China to the East and eradicated Christianity from North Africa in their conquests.  They attacked Spain and in three short years had utterly subjugated it (except for a small piece which would later come back to haunt them).  They drove into what is now France and almost captured it as well before running into Charles Martel and a wall of Franks who stopped them and beat them back, protecting Christendom from what could have been total annihilation.


Spain was Muslim for 770 years until the Reconquest completely won it back in 1492 AD.  It is incredible to imagine.

Christendom at this time was far-flung but also not nearly as unified as Islam.  The Roman empire was a shell of its glorious former self, unable to even hold all their lands in Italy, let alone in any other countries.  Christian missionaries had made in-roads for Christ in many kingdoms, and the faith of Jesus Christ was spreading across the world, too.

I do not recall being taught any of this in school.  You would think that the meteroic rise of a new religion by way of the sword that captured most of the known world would be something to focus on!  Is it too politically incorrect for textbooks to talk about Muslim armies smashing and subjugating other peoples across the entire world, changing the course of history  as well as the religion and culture of entire peoples, many of whom were once Christian?  I guess so.

Did anyone learn about the Muslim conquests in their history classes growing up?