Advancing the theory that the term 'the Crusades' should not apply
merely to the 11th century wars in which the West strove to recover
the Holy Land from the Muslims, but also to the struggle between
the Christian Byzantine Empire and its infidel neighbours several
centuries earlier, the author deals above all with Heraclius, the
Byzantine Emperor born in Cappadocia in 575, who seized the throne
in 610 and concentrated the struggle against the Avars to the north
and the Persians to the east. Regan describes Heraclius's military
campaigns vividly and enthusiastically, particularly his single
combats against the Persian champions. He argues that in terms of
military leadership only Alexander and Julius Caesar rank with
Heraclius, and only Constantine and Charlemagne as Emperors.
Heraclius, Regan says, 'was not only the "First Crusader", he was
the truest crusader, returning the relic thought to be the Holy
Cross to Jerusalem and entering the city not with fire and sword
like the crusaders of 1099, but as the simply penitent, carrying
the relic in his hands'. Regan makes his argument well, and brings
alive the triumphs and disasters of Heraclius's life: he lost and
regained the Holy Sepulchre, rebuilt a whole military system and
restored the fortunes of Rome, but then, with his health fatally
damaged, his marriage allegedly incestuous, and the rise of Islam
unstoppable, he saw the work of a lifetime undone. This is a
fascinating history, bringing to our attention a period and a great
emperor both hitherto unjustly neglected. (Kirkus UK)
Traditionally, "the Crusades" refer to the wars begun by the West
in the late 11th century to recover the Holy Land from Muslim
domination. In this work, the author argues that the first true
crusaders came from the east several centuries before, starting
with the struggle between the Christian Byzantine empire and its
"infidel" invaders. It begins in the seventh century with the
defeat by the Persians of much of the Byzantine empire; Jerusalem
itself was seized, the Holy Sepulchre destroyed, and the True
Cross, its most important relic, was taken back to Persia. At this
moment of crisis a hero, the emperor Heraclius, came from Africa to
save the empire and Christianity. He overthrew the power of the
Persian empire, regained the True Cross and and carried it as a
penitent into the recently regained Jerusalem in one of the
greatest scenes of the ancient world and of Christian history.
However, Heraclius had regained the Holy Land only to lose it to
the Muslim Arabs for the next 200 years. The first full account in
English of these "first crusaders", this book reveals stories of
adventure which easily match those of the better known western
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