Biblical Archaeology Review 37:5, September/October 2011

ReViews: Medieval Weapons and Armor

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 in-depth 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.

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