Knights of Jerusalem: The Crusading Order of Hospitallers 1100–1565
by David Nicolle
Oxford and NY: Osprey, 2008, 224 pp.
Reviewed by Adrian Boas
Recently many publications have appeared describing the history and activities of the military orders of the Crusader era. Abundantly illustrated works aimed at a broad, nonacademic audience, and an increase in popular and one hopes accurate literature, is a positive development, following as it has, a wave of popular fiction based on the medieval period and in particular on the military orders. These fictional accounts often make little or no attempt to distinguish between facts and imagination.
In Knights of Jerusalem: The Crusading Order of the Hospitallers 1100–1565, David Nicolle addresses a broader audience and has produced a readable and attractively illustrated book that covers a wide range of information but contains little indepth discussion. Nicolle has dispensed with most of the scholarly apparatus; there is, unfortunately, no use of notes or references. He has, however, included a chronological timeline, appendices (the usual list of Hospitaller masters with the dates of their appointments), a discussion of surviving documents and collections of arms and armor (rather brief to be of any real use), a helpful glossary and a reasonably broad bibliography, albeit somewhat overly reliant on the works of one or two authors (almost two of its eight pages are devoted to the publications of a single author, while a number of relevant recent publications have been left out).
The author deals with the history, administration, organization, recruitment, training, discipline and warfare of the order. Nicolle’s principal original contribution is, not surprisingly, in the field for which he is best known; his descriptions of medieval weapons and armor. In a chapter titled “Dressing and Arming the Brethren,” Nicolle gives an informative discussion of the armor and arms used by the Hospitallers in the 12th to 16th centuries.
The many illustrations throughout this book depict not only weapons and armor but also castles. One might have expected in a book of this nature a broader discussion of the castles that played so prominent a role in Hospitaller life. Together with the Templars, the Hospitaller Order was responsible for most of the advances made in military architecture in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Adrian Boas is a senior lecturer at the University of Haifa’s departments of Archaeology and Land of Israel Studies. He has excavated and surveyed Crusader sites in Acre and Jerusalem and the castles of Vadum Jacob, Blanchegarde, Beth Shean and Montfort. His latest books are Archaeology of the Military Orders (Routledge, 2006) and Domestic Settings: Sources on Domestic Architecture and Day-to-Day Activities in the Crusader States (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2010).
Originally appeared as “Medieval Weapons and Armor,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2011.