In an attempt to learn more about the history of the Templar knights, an order of fighting monks who pledged to protect the Holy Land and the pilgrims who traveled to it, I decided to read The Templars by Piers Paul Read. The Templars have been associated with everything from heretical teaching to the protectors of the relics of Jesus Christ.
Read chronicles the rise and fall of the Templars, officially called the Knights of the Temple of Solomon. The book is generally split into three unequal parts: the importance of the Holy Land to the Jews, Muslims, and Christians; the creation and role of the Templars; and the fall of the Templars, including their legacy.
Read clearly has done his research on the topic. I like his explanations of the different religions and how they came to value the same real estate. For instance, the Temple Mount, which includes the Dome of the Rock, is sacred – to Jews because it is the site of the Temple of Solomon, to Christians because it includes ground that Christ walked on, and to Muslims because this is where they believe Muhammad ascended into heaven. Read’s history helps you understand why there is so much fighting between the religions for control of the area.
Read does an excellent job in providing the context for which the Templars existed. However, I think that he went a little too far with the explanatory information. At times, I feel that the book is a history of the various crusades and the Middle Ages with a little bit added in about the Templars. For example, Read discusses in-depth the enemies against the Church in Europe, such as the Cathars in southern France, with only a small mention of the Templars’ role in the Crusade against the Cathars. Because the Templars had only a very small part in this Crusade, Read should have spent a shorter amount of time on the subject.
Finally, I think the reading is a bit dense. The pages do not flow and I found myself wanting to skim read some of the pages because of the cumbersome writing style.
With all of that said, I would recommend this book if you want to get a better grasp of the history of the Crusades and Templars (and the other religious orders), and the historic context of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in the Middle East during the Middle Ages.