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The Crusader States.

The Crusader States. By Malcolm Barber. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012. Pp. xviii, 476. $40.00.)

In a detailed narrative based on a perceptive reading of a wide range of primary sources, Malcolm Barber argues that the twelfth-century crusader states were viable, rejecting as teleological the assumption of their inevitable destruction in a jihad led by Zengi, Nur-al-Din, and Saladin. Such an assumption simplifies a complex power struggle for hegemony over Syria and Palestine while underestimating the importance of contingency in the history of the crusader states and their adversaries.

According to Barber, the Franks adapted successfully to life in a region with a long history and diverse population, a success visible in their distinct identity and culture. Yet Barber's characterization of their principalities as states is problematic, implying more institutional strength and cohesion than actually existed. Their survival depended more on consensus politics, military victories, and understanding the region's geopolitics than on institutionalized government. Rivalries among Frankish leaders often threatened the crusader states with disintegration into autonomous lordships, though lack of money and manpower limited the king of Jerusalem's ability to reward his men and wage war successfully. Still, Barber's occasional comparison of Frankish and Western methods of government opens further avenues of inquiry in the effort to understand medieval states apart from modern paradigms.

Barber's argument against the crusader states' inevitable decline and fall is convincing. Despite major setbacks, including Zengi's conquest of Edessa and the failure of the Second Crusade, the mid-twelfth-century kingdom of Jerusalem remained secure, although lack of resources soon drove Kings Baldwin III and Amalric to attempt the conquest of Egypt. Amalric's successive campaigns drew Nur-al-Din and the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenus into a regional power struggle, which ended unpredictably with Saladin's takeover of Egypt and Syria. At this critical juncture, political turmoil weakened Constantinople while Jerusalem was ruled by a fatally ill king, Baldwin IV, who became involved in factional strife over policy and succession to his throne. Consensus politics broke down entirely when a powerful faction engineered the succession of his sister Sibylla's husband, Guy of Lusignan, despite grave doubts about his leadership. When Saladin attacked once again in early July 1187, King Guy mobilized all available Frankish forces without leaving any in reserve, a decision suggesting to Barber that Guy never intended a major battle against Saladin. Apparently Guy changed his mind during the night of July 2, with fatal consequences. Had he not fought, the internal stresses in Saladin's army and his dwindling supplies might have led to his withdrawal. As it was, even Saladin could not be certain of victory at Hattin until he saw Guy's tent collapse after six long hours of battle.

Barber's book ends with the Third Crusade, as if King Richard's failure to recapture Jerusalem ends the history of the crusader states. Despite this unexplained, even abrupt ending, The Crusader States offers important insights into an often misunderstood episode of medieval history.

Mary Alberi

Pace University

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Author:Alberi, Mary
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2014
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