Reviewed by Zayn Gregory
“Not only did our troops not shrink from eating dead Turks and Saracens; they also ate dogs!”
Documentation of rampant cannibalism among the Franj comes from the Franks themselves. However, the accounts from Arab witnesses are what makes this book so enjoyable: the cannibalism, the elective surgery by battle-axe, the trials-by-ordeal—all described by genteel observers shocked at the barbarism of the blond peril.
The book covers a long period where many rulers come and go, but major figures like Nur ad-Din Zangi, Saladin and Baybars are presented in good detail and there are many colorful digressions that fill in a picture of the times among the major battles and changes in leadership. The tone of anthropological distance is delicious, as with Ibn al-Athir upon the unexpected death of Frederick Barbarossa, King of the Germans: “thus did God spare the Muslims the maleficence of the Germans, who constitute a particularly numerous and tenacious species of Franj.”
Zayn Gregory writes about plants, pantuns and the Malay archipelago at Bin Gregory Productions (www.bingregory.com)