Book Review: God’s Battalions – Chapter 2: Christendom Strikes Back

March 8, 2011

'Greek Fire' was a mysterious and potent weapon used to defeat Muslim forces

This is part of a multi-part review of God’s Battalions by Rodney Stark. The summary is here. You can use the table of contents found there.

In chapter 2, Stark details the halting of the Muslim advance and the ability of Christendom to repel the Muslim forces from much of the European continent. He states that it was superior technology and expertise that allowed Christendom to achieve some pretty significant victories. In particular, the victory at Constantinople was key. Had Constantinople been lost, the entire continent may have been in grave danger. But the Christian forces won thanks to technological advances. They had something that was known as “Greek Fire” that was a highly flammable substance that could not be put out with water. Chemists to this day have not been able to recreate this material but based on the accounts at the time, it was used to strike fear on the Arab forces. It was launched from the walls of Constantinople at the invading forces and it was used at sea in the form of a flame thrower to burn the Muslim fleets. Other factors to the Christian success were superior siege technology, superior naval expertise and superior preparation for the natural elements. Other victories (such as the battle of Tours) added to the Christian successes. When the Muslim forces were repelled, this gave the Christian nations confidence that the Muslims could be defeated.

This confidence was key to the onset of the Crusades that we will discuss in future chapters.

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