Crusader Castles in the Holy Land by David Nicolle

Crusader Castles in the Holy Land: An Illustrated History of the Crusader Fortifications of the Middle East and Mediterranean by David Nicolle is a fascinating book chronicling the creation or renovation of the Crusader castles.

Here is a description of the book from the publisher:

The bloody crusades that swept across the Middle East in medieval times left their mark on the landscape, where fortifications which once acted as bastions of power for the beleaguered Crusader States now cast their ruined shadows over the earth.

These fortifications varied considerably in size, architecture and function from the mighty Crac de Chevaliers, the headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller in Syria to smaller fortified dwellings and religious centers. With almost constant warfare between Crusaders and Saracens they were vitally important both as centers of defense and bases for the launch of offensive operations. Crusader Castles in the Holy Land is a beautifully illustrated guide to the development, construction, purpose and history of these castles. Examining the castles built in the Holy Land between 1097 and 1302 as well as the castles built in Cyprus, Greece and the Aegean between 1191 and 1571, this book provides a rare overview of the history and notably the evolution of fortresses and defenses during the Crusades. Contemporary photographs and the latest research resurrect these imposing reminders of over two centuries of conflict.

The book is divided into two parts:  Crusader Castles in the Holy Land (1097 to 1302) and Crusader Castles in Cyprus, Greece, and the Aegean (1191 to 1573).  The latter part of the book is relatively new to me – I knew about the castles in Cyprus and Rhodes, but I did not realize there were Crusader Castles in mainland Greece.  These were “appropriated” from the Byzantine Empire.

Each of the major, and some of the minor, fortresses are studied in detail.  Nicolle includes a description and the general surroundings of each fortification and whether it was built by the Crusaders or renovated from its previous Muslim owners.  An interesting point about this part is how the Crusaders adapted their European style of castle building with the Byzantine and Middle Eastern style to create a unique fortress in the Holy Land.

Nicolle does not just describe the brick and mortar of the castles, but also life in the castles.  The conditions that the occupants had to live under.  For example, a commodity that was not as important in Europe, but an important one in the Middle East was water.  Nicolle recounts that some castles capitulated to the Muslims relatively quickly because the water cisterns were almost dry.

As with other Osprey publications, this book would not be an Osprey publication without an excellent assortment of contemporary photographs of the various castles and full-color illustrations.  Many of the castles are brought back to their former glory through these illustrations – they help you to better understand the magnificence of the castles.

This book is a must-have for any enthusiast of the Crusader years in the Holy Land and beyond.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.