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The Era of the Crusades

Learn the full history of the Crusades—one of the most impactful events ever—from the military campaigns to the political, cultural, and economic changes they wrought on both Europe and the Muslim world.
The Era of the Crusades is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 95.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Survey This is one of Dr. Harl’s better courses; it is in his wheelhouse. In this course, he methodically walks through all the canonical crusades (and several non-canonical crusades), providing an excellent survey of this pivotal era in world history. Dr. Harl invests considerable time (12 lectures) in establishing the background of the Crusades. With the foundation set, he launches the First Crusade in Lecture 13 in which the Byzantine Empire spurred the Crusaders to capture Jerusalem. In the middle 12 lectures, Dr. Harl describes what the Crusaders tried to establish, why the Crusader states fell, and why the Second Crusade failed. In the last 12 lectures, Dr. Harl describes the last five canonical crusades and the implosion of the crusading effort itself, including how the Crusaders turned on the Byzantine Empire and sacked Constantinople. And yet, one of the lasting effects of the Crusade was to transform Europe from a conglomeration of weak feudal states into a continent of potent nation-states including France, the Holy Roman Empire, and England. Dr. Harl has a presentation style that is unique within The Great Courses (TGC) stable of teachers. He has a breezy communication style with frequent short (sometimes distracting) asides. And yet he communicates the major points well. He is generally even-handed favoring neither the Crusaders nor the Muslims. Instead, he seeks to understand both. The course guide is average by TGC standards. It is written in outline format (sentences, not phrases) as opposed to paragraph format or bullet format. It averages about five pages per lecture, well below average by TGC standards. There are no graphics in the lectures although there are nine maps in the appendix. The appendix also contains an extensive timeline, a glossary, a lot of short biographical notes, and a bibliography. I used the audio version. The DVD may have had some useful maps but I found the audio version quite acceptable. The course was published in 2003.
Date published: 2024-01-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Beware NOTE: this is a DVD or audio only course. No on line streaming!
Date published: 2023-11-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Ok I am only 6 episodes into it and we still haven’t gotten to the first crusade. Very very complicated. The frequent use of maps is very helpful to lessen the massive complexity. Would give you more reaction when I am finished. Not sure if I would recommend it or not yet
Date published: 2022-12-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Prof. Harl is enthusiastic and comprehensible, but his decision to share every detail makes it hard to get the actual story. Only in Lecture 14 does the First Crusade reach Jerusalem. Of course, it’s the telling concrete detail that makes a story memorable, but when there are hundreds, your ears glaze over.
Date published: 2022-07-26
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Beware Does not have streaming video. Wouldn't have purchased this if I had known that.
Date published: 2022-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Harl’s Amazing Brain Yes, the history is here on a very high and well-organized level. More importantly, this course will change minds regarding the Crusades by clearly showing all participants’ viewpoints and what THEY learned from the experience. Harl's exactitude clearly demonstrates major changes that need to be better understood in order to have a valid conversation about European or Middle Eastern civilizations. For me, Harl’s convincing timing/causation of the change in Islamic jihad from an offensive to defensive tool, was major to my understanding of this religion. Similarly, the Papal change in the meaning of “Crusade" was a point that might take a while, but is very important to the rest of history. Harl’s sub-theme of the gradual political organization of European states (& loose Caliphates) from a single King on horseback (or isolated sultanate) to the complexity of administrators capable of holding states together when leaders were physically absent is eye opening. It clearly demonstrated for the need to honor the past painful lessons of our strong and intelligent forefathers. His analysis of the destruction of Constantinople in 1204 forced Orthodox Byzantines to separate spiritual belief from secular “things”. Similarly, Crusaders losing Jerusalem “…forced a redefinition of the (Christian) faith in terms of belief, as opposed to place and ritual.” History’s complexity is beautifully portrayed. The banking & commerce of the Venetians/Genoese aided Crusaders but their exportation of European silver money to the Muslim near East funded a resurgent Islamic military. While the Genoese transported Crusaders, their Black Sea slave trade of Turkomen teenagers built a Mamluk Islamic military that became the final bulwark of Islam. In fact, the end of the Crusades was in part a commercial decision. The invasion of the Mongols brought not only terror but opened the eyes of Europe to new trade horizons. Without taking this course, such conclusions will not impact your thinking effectively. Harl sneaks ideas in early and gradually develops them until his conclusions become rock-solid. As a bonus, Harl throws in clear explanations for both the myths of Robin Hood and Prestor John. His numismatic interest and the gorgeous illustrations spark up the DVD lectures. PROS: I needed to take few notes, as the Guidebook is one of the best from TGC. The included maps, a timeline and biographical notes are excellent. A Transcript is probably only needed for those who desire to major in the History. CONS: none CONCLUSION: This course is an antidote to the current collegiate dishonor of forefathers and clearly shows how disastrous such academic Alzheimer’s can be. Civilization is NOT instantly created from a Marxist thought-experiment but slowly congeals from complex past mistakes and successes. Harl patiently and brilliantly demonstrates how this happens.
Date published: 2021-03-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing This course really should be titled Western Medieval History. The crusades did not seem to be the main focus of this course at all. Of the 36 lectures, the first crusade was covered in lecture 13, the second in lecture 18, the third in lecture 26. Professor Hurl is filled with historic knowledge of everything that took place in the former Roman Empire after it fell. The crusades were just a small part of it.
Date published: 2020-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from European Colonialism 1.0 The Crusades were Latin Europe’s first expansionist effort since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire about six hundred fifty years earlier. As you probably know, the First Crusade was motivated by a desire to capture Jerusalem from the Muslims, and it worked, ending with the establishment of three (later four) principalities in the Near East. Unfortunately for the Latins, the Muslims (Turks in particular) reconquered them one by one despite Crusades 2 through 8, and the whole project ended with retreat of Christendom in the East. Fortunately for us, Kenneth Harl’s lectures make the era’s events and personalities come alive again in their original color, passion and humiliation. Harl makes several interesting contributions. First and most important, he makes clear that the Crusades were a clash of three civilizations rather than two—the Latin West, the Orthodox Christian Byzantines (a later Western name for the Greek-speaking Eastern Romans), and Islam. Second, he is a strong believer in contingency. Even when Saladin united Syria and Egypt in the late twelfth century, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was not necessarily doomed. It took incompetence to give Saladin a decisive victory over an exhausted and parched Christian army that King Guy of Lusignan had foolishly led through waterless scrublands. Third, he points out that crusading went on for as long as it did because it became a tradition among French families, with various sons feeling a need to live up to the deeds of their fathers or to atone for their failures. This applied to the Capetian royal dynasty as well, though none of the French kings got crusading right. Fourth, he also notes that Genoese and Venetian naval predominance began in this era as mercantile competition from Pisa, Amalfi, Marseilles and Barcelona dropped out. Harl also argues for a couple of surprising points. He rejects any connection between the Crusades and Gothic architecture; I had always believed the pointed arch was an import from the Near East. Furthermore, he denies that that the Albigensian Crusade in southern France had any legitimate target at all. There were no Cathars or heretics; the entire movement was an invention of its persecutors. Well, then you have to wonder what all the fuss was about. My favorite lectures were numbers 16 and 29. The one described the Latin states of Edessa, Antioch and Jerusalem, their geographic and demographic differences and the ways they adapted Western feudal institutions to the commercialized East. The other compares the sorry state of the Latin “Empire” of Constantinople with well-governed Frankish Greece, whose rulers intermarried with Greek Orthodox women, held money-fiefs, encouraged the production of luxury goods, minted silver currency, supported troubadours and staged tournaments. I have my own views. First, it’s obvious in hindsight that the apparent miracle of the First Crusade was almost impossible to reproduce; it came about only because of great combat leadership among the Normans and French, disunity among the Muslims, and Byzantine support. All three of these things were missing later. To a large extent, failed crusaders got what they deserved. Again and again, they rejected sound advice from people who knew better, like the disorganized and untrained peasants of the First Crusade and the kings of the Second Crusade, and then met the highly foreseeable disaster they were warned against. The leaders of the Fifth Crusade that captured Damietta and marched on Cairo received an amazing peace offer from the Sultan of Egypt that would have restored Jerusalem and paid tribute for his castles in Jordan. They rejected it, walked into a trap, and were forced to surrender. Second, I feel sorry for the long-gone Byzantines. If the Latins had put only half the effort they wasted on Jerusalem into recovering Anatolia from the Turks they could have saved the Byzantine Empire for the modern era. Instead of Muslim Turkey we would have a Christian Greek state stretching from the Aegean Sea to Armenia, perhaps still preserving the imperial monarchy of Constantine. Of course, such an objective would never have aroused the religious fervor and intense effort in the West that Jerusalem did. As it was, the Fourth Crusade broke apart what was left of the Empire, aiding the later Turkish advance into Europe. In addition to this course, I can strongly recommend Harl’s related courses on Asia Minor, Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire, and the Vikings. If you want a lot more detail on the Crusades and the Latin Kingdoms in the Near East, consider reading Stephen Runciman’s three-volume history from the 1950s.
Date published: 2019-08-18
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Professor Kenneth Harl, Tulane University’s nine-time teaching award winner, leads a thorough and intellectually challenging analysis of one of history’s most renowned and influential periods of religious warfare. You will fully appreciate how Western civilization changed in many profound ways during the Crusading era, and explore misperceptions and long-debated questions about the Crusades.


Kenneth W. Harl

We will be looking largely at archeological evidence and analysis done by anthropologists because we are operating largely in a world without writing.


Tulane University
Dr. Kenneth W. Harl is Professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he teaches courses in Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader history. He earned his B.A. from Trinity College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. Recognized as an outstanding lecturer, Professor Harl has received numerous teaching awards at Tulane, including the coveted Sheldon H. Hackney Award. He has earned Tulane's annual Student Body Award for Excellence in Teaching nine times and is the recipient of Baylor University's nationwide Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teachers. In 2007, he was the Lewis P. Jones Visiting Professor in History at Wofford College. An expert on classical Anatolia, he has taken students with him into the field on excursions and to assist in excavations of Hellenistic and Roman sites in Turkey. Professor Harl has also published a wide variety of articles and books, including his current work on coins unearthed in an excavation of Gordion, Turkey, and a new book on Rome and her Iranian foes. A fellow and trustee of the American Numismatic Society, Professor Harl is well known for his studies of ancient coinage. He is the author of Civic Coins and Civic Politics in the Roman East, A.D. 180-275 and Coinage in the Roman Economy, 300 B.C. to A.D. 700.

By This Professor

The Ottoman Empire
The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes
The Vikings
The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity
The Heirs of Rome

01: The Heirs of Rome

This lecture defines the Crusades, examines popular perceptions, and looks at the civilizations involved: Western Europe, Byzantium, and the Islamic world.

32 min
Byzantine Orthodox Civilization

02: Byzantine Orthodox Civilization

In 1000, in law and politics, Constantinople was the New Rome. In letters, arts, and aesthetics, it was akin to classical Greece. In contrast to Western Europe, its nobility stressed proper comportment and education.

30 min
Byzantine Zenith in the Macedonian Age

03: Byzantine Zenith in the Macedonian Age

The Byzantine Empire stood as the premier Christian power under Basil II. The majestic image of imperial Constantinople long endured, influencing Crusader and Muslim perceptions until the fateful sack of 1204.

30 min
The Failure of the Heirs of Basil II

04: The Failure of the Heirs of Basil II

The collapse of Byzantine power opened Asia Minor to conquest by the Seljuk Turkomen. Alexius I and allies from Western Europe launched the First Crusade.

30 min
Abbasid Baghdad and Fatimid Egypt

05: Abbasid Baghdad and Fatimid Egypt

The Abbasid caliphate fragmented in the 9th century. The Fatimids swept across North Africa, conquering the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

30 min
The Coming of the Seljuk Turks

06: The Coming of the Seljuk Turks

Tughril Bey and his Seljuk Turks entered Baghdad in 1055 and recognized the Abbasid caliphate. The Seljuk sultans ("guardians" to the caliph) raided Byzantium, with unexpected victory at Manzikert in 1071.

30 min
The Recovery of Western Europe

07: The Recovery of Western Europe

The Crusades are often depicted as a migration of peasants and unwanted sons of nobles. In fact, the Crusades were made possible by the economic recovery of Europe.

30 min
Kings and Princes of Western Europe

08: Kings and Princes of Western Europe

In 1095, none of the three great monarchs of Christendom assumed the cross. Instead, dukes and counts, who owed fealty for their lands in return for military service, set out as leaders of the First Crusade.

30 min
Warfare in Western Europe

09: Warfare in Western Europe

On the eve of the First Crusade, heavily armed knights dominated the battlefield of Western Europe.

30 min
The Papacy and Religious Reform

10: The Papacy and Religious Reform

Pope Gregory VII disputed the right of Emperor Henry IV to invest bishops, and the ensuing Investiture Controversy redefined the medieval church.

30 min
Piety and Pilgrimage

11: Piety and Pilgrimage

Since the 4th century, Christians yearned for the spiritual renewal gained from visiting the holy places. Pilgrimage, fused with Germanic warrior ethos and Christian ideals of holy war, resulted in Crusade.

30 min
Christian Offensives in Spain and Sicily

12: Christian Offensives in Spain and Sicily

In the 11th century, border wars against Muslims in Spain, Sicily, and the Western Mediterranean were redefined as part of a wider conflict between Christendom and Islam.

30 min
Alexius I and the First Crusade

13: Alexius I and the First Crusade

In 1092, Alexius I Comnenus appealed to the Western princes and Pope Urban II. Alexius struck a chord: Urban launched the First Crusade.

30 min
From Clermont to Jerusalem

14: From Clermont to Jerusalem

On July 15, 1099, members of the First Crusade stormed into Jerusalem, slaughtering Muslim inhabitants. The princes saw victory as God's favor, and carved out principalities in defiance of oaths to Alexius I.

30 min
Conquest and Defense of Outremer

15: Conquest and Defense of Outremer

Baldwin I—crowned king of Jerusalem on the death of his brother, Godfrey of Bouillon in 1100—imposed his suzerainty on Antioch, Edessa, and Tripoli. His successors inherited a splendidly run kingdom.

30 min
Frankish Settlement of Outremer

16: Frankish Settlement of Outremer

At King Fulk's death, perhaps 50,000 Western Europeans ruled three million residents of Outremer. While many natives disliked Frankish rule, they prospered.

30 min
Comnenian Emperors and Crusader Princes

17: Comnenian Emperors and Crusader Princes

Comnenian emperors John II and Manuel I mounted expeditions to assert imperial rights over Crusader Antioch. They thus were distracted from their more deadly foes, the Normans and Seljuk Turks.

30 min
The Second Crusade

18: The Second Crusade

After the fall of Edessa to Nur-ad-Din, King Louis VII of France and German King Conrad III led the Second Crusade. The Crusaders' defeat at Damascus left Nur-ad-Din free to unite Muslim Syria.

30 min
The Empire at Bay

19: The Empire at Bay

Manuel I inherited an empire at bay. In 1176, he suffered a decisive defeat by the Seljuk Turks at Myriocephalon. The Franks of Outremer not only soon lost their best ally in Manuel, but henceforth could be reinforced only by sea.

30 min
The Rise of Saladin

20: The Rise of Saladin

In 1169, Saladin occupied Cairo. He secured Muslim Syria and northern Iraq and proclaimed a new holy war against "the Franks of the coast."

30 min
Byzantine Recovery under the Comnenians

21: Byzantine Recovery under the Comnenians

In 1092, Alexius I restored imperial prosperity. Comnenian emperors funded expensive wars, diplomacy, and patronage. But the Crusaders envied imperial wealth.

30 min
A Renaissance of Byzantine Letters and Arts

22: A Renaissance of Byzantine Letters and Arts

Comnenian emperors revived imperial patronage of letters and arts. With the capture of Constantinople, Westerners initiated a cultural exchange that contributed to the Florentine Enlightenment.

30 min
Trade and Currency in the Mediterranean

23: Trade and Currency in the Mediterranean

By the mid-12th century, Venice, Genoa, Palermo, Marseilles, and Barcelona emerged as conduits of trade between Christendom and the Islamic and Byzantine worlds, shifting the financial axis from Constantinople.

30 min
Cultural Exchange in Gothic Europe

24: Cultural Exchange in Gothic Europe

Chivalry and courtly manners were defined by Crusading. This spirit was imbued in the first great vernacular literary monuments of Gothic Europe—"chansons de geste," Arthurian romances, and the cycle of the Ring.

30 min
The Horns of Hattin

25: The Horns of Hattin

King Guy de Lusignan suffered a crushing defeat at the Horns of Hattin on July 4, 1187. Saladin overran Outremer and entered Jerusalem in triumph.

31 min
The Third Crusade

26: The Third Crusade

After Hattin, the kings of Christendom embarked on the Third Crusade (1189–1192). Richard the Lion-hearted recaptured the ports of Outremer, but not Jerusalem.

30 min
From Jerusalem to Constantinople

27: From Jerusalem to Constantinople

Pope Innocent III called for the liberation of Jerusalem, but members of the Fourth Crusade (1198–1204) wanted to capture Constantinople in the name of faith.

31 min
The Sack of Constantinople

28: The Sack of Constantinople

Did the Crusaders sack Constantinople out of ambition and jealousy? Western perceptions and misunderstandings certainly influenced their crucial decisions in 1202–1204.

30 min
The World of Frankish Greece

29: The World of Frankish Greece

The Frankish dukes of Athens and Princes of Achaea offered token fealty to Constantinople. They promoted an opulent world of tournaments and troubadours.

30 min
Splinter Empires and Orthodox Princes

30: Splinter Empires and Orthodox Princes

After the sack of Constantinople, Theodore I Lascaris organized a Byzantine government at Nicaea. Michael VIII Palaeologus sacrificed this state to recapture Constantinople in 1261. His son Andronicus II led Orthodox subjects hateful of Latin rule.

30 min
Ayyubid Egypt and Seljuk Anatolia

31: Ayyubid Egypt and Seljuk Anatolia

The Ayyubid sultans built a new political order in Egypt, Syria, Al-Jazirah, and Mecca and Medina. Simultaneously, the sultans of Konya integrated Anatolia into the Muslim world. These two states laid the foundations for the Ottoman Porte destined to end the Crusades.

30 min
Crusader Cyprus and the Levant

32: Crusader Cyprus and the Levant

An impressive array of European nobility led the Fifth Crusade (1217–1221). The Sultan al-Kamil contained the Crusaders at Damietta, forcing their withdrawal. Afterward, the Lusignan kings turned to exploiting domains in Cyprus.

30 min
Venice and Genoa

33: Venice and Genoa

In the 13th century, Venice and Genoa turned their Levantine and Byzantine ports into commercial empires. They preferred trade with Ayyubid and Mamluk Egypt and Syria, and opposed papal appeals for crusades after 1291.

30 min
The Mongols and the Legend of Prester John

34: The Mongols and the Legend of Prester John

In 1220, Jenghiz Khan was greeted as the heir of Prester John, a mighty Christian lord. But the Mongolian invasion of Eastern Europe terrified Christians. The Crusaders faced a resurgent Mamluk Egypt.

30 min
The Royal Crusaders

35: The Royal Crusaders

The Fifth Crusade (1217–1221), Sixth Crusade (1228–1229) under Frederick II, and Seventh Crusade (1246–1254) led by St. Louis IX, King of France, all failed. The Christian fortresses along the Levantine shore were doomed.

30 min
The Passing of the Crusades

36: The Passing of the Crusades

The Mamluk sultans overthrew Ayyubid rule in 1250. The Mamluk general Baybars virtually eliminated Crusader rule in the Levant by capturing Antioch in 1268. The end came in 1291, when the Mamluks stormed Acre.

31 min