By Jem Duducu
Amberley Publishing (2014)
In 312AD, the Roman Empire was in the grips of civil war. Torn between rival emperors Constantine and Maxentius, events reached a crescendo with the Battle of Milvian Bridge. On the eve of the battle Constantine had visions of Jesus and decided to adorn his troops in Christian symbolism in the battlefield, in the form of the chi-rho. He also had a banner created displaying the image of Christ. In this way ‘Jesus appeared to come from nowhere’, and Maxentius’s troops were blindsided. Though there were pagans and Christians on both sides, the battle represented the first ‘Christian’ military victory in history. Constantine would go on to transform the religious landscape of Europe, creating a new, Christian city in Turkey and calling it Constantinople.
In Deus Vult, this is the true beginning of The Crusades. The two hundred page book presents a ‘concise history’ of a fascinating period in western history. Beginning with Constantine’s endeavours and ending with the final crusades in the late 13th century. Along the way, Duducu covers enormous ground – from Pope Urban II’s speech at Claremont that declared that God would reward those who fought his cause in his name, and the legendary clash between Richard ‘the Lionheart’ and Saladin, to the much less covered crusades in Northern Europe, and the trial of the Templars. The book takes its title from the cry of the people at Pope Urban’s speech. It means ‘God wills it’.
From start to finish, Deus Vult is a riveting read. Where the book really comes alive is in the storytelling. With so many altercations, battles and greater and lesser characters it would be easy to become a little lost, but Duducu’s narrative is strong and easy to follow. There are no footnotes or references; a somewhat audacious break with tradition. Duducu does, however, offer suggested reading should you want to find out more.
It almost goes without saying that such a book is timely. Given the events of recent years, an understanding of the history behind human conflict and atrocities committed in the name of religion is becoming increasingly important. In Deus Vult we have a perfect introduction to one such conflict – The Crusades.