Apocalypse Then: The First Crusade
A conversation with Jay Rubenstein

How did the First Crusade happen? What could have suddenly caused tens of thousands of knights, commoners and even nuns at the end of the 11th century to leave their normal lives behind and trek thousands of miles across hostile territory in an unprecedented vicious and bloody quest to wrest Jer...


About Jay Rubenstein:

Jay Rubenstein is an Associate Professor of Medieval History at the University of Tennessee. His work focuses on the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual worlds of Europe in the Middle Ages, in particular, the 11th and 12th centuries in England, France, and the crusader settlements. A Rhodes sch...


Some Additional Resources:
Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse

by Jay Rubenstein

Internet Medieval Sourcebook: The Crusades

A website with English translations of primary sources and contemporary accounts from the period of the Crusades.

The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land

by Thomas Asbridge

Monodies and On the Relics of Saints: The Autobiography and a Manifesto of a French Monk from the Time of the Crusades

by Guibert of Nogent, edited and translated by Jay Rubenstein

Guibert of Nogent: Portrait of a Medieval Mind

by Jay Rubenstein

Jay Rubenstein - New Books Network Interview

The Glorious End (Commentary Excerpt)

We’ve all said it at some time or another, determined to assuage those who have, through momentary anxiety, lost their vital sense of perspective: "It’s not the end of the world."

For many who lived in Western Europe towards the end of the 11th century, however, that’s precisely what it was. Apocalyptic fervor was all around and played a seminal role in the development of what became the First Crusade.

Or so says the noted medievalist Jay Rubinstein. His recent book, Armies of Heaven, is a detailed analysis of this intriguing thesis, one which is naturally couched in a particular religio-historical context.

“The word ‘apocalypse’ is the Greek word for revelation, so when I say ‘Apocalypse’ in this sense, I’m talking about the last book of the Bible and not just the final conflicts in human history, or what have you. The illustrated Apocalypses – when the artist tried to imagine what a seven-headed dragon with ten horns looks like, or what a lamb covered in eyes looks like – are, to use a slightly risky word, trippy. Someone was definitely in an altered mental state when he was imagining these things. It’s a very powerful, abstract book where the imagery never quite comes together, but that’s what makes it, at the same time, a beautiful work and one you can think about constantly.

“In the course of the Apocalypse, there are, of course, four horsemen who bring plagues and all sorts of trouble to the Earth; there are seven angels sounding seven trumpets; seven angels breaking seven seals; the seven-headed dragon appears; there’s a whore of Babylon; there’s a Beast of the Earth; and gradually it becomes a story of conflict between Good and Evil, with all these exotic beasts generally on the side of Satan. In the last battle, a Christ figure appears on a white horse. He imprisons the dragon in the Pits of Hell, he inaugurates a thousand year period of peace on Earth, and then there’s one more battle before Heaven comes down from the sky and history is brought to an end.”

Trippy indeed, and a rather strong contrast with the decidedly less exalted life of your average inhabitant of late 11th century Europe. For Rubenstein, this is hardly a coincidence...

For the full Commentary, purchase this issue from our site, or buy the eBook from Amazon.com or iBookstore, or download our app off Apple Newsstand. Each issue comes with the commentary, the full conversation, a biography of our guest, as well as references for further exploration.