'Kingdom of heaven's siege of Jerusalem was largely rubbish'

November 11, 2005

Historian John France is bringing the Crusades to life in a TV series about early Christian-Muslim conflict

John France, a medieval historian at Swansea University, is starring in a History Channel series beginning this week, The Crusades - Crescent and the Cross .

The programme, which was shot in Damascus, Jerusalem, Istanbul and Morocco, allowed him to repeat a journey he made 15 years ago. The earlier trip, funded by the British Academy, saw him retrace the route of the First Crusade, by four-wheel drive, bus, taxi and on foot. In Lebanon he was escorted off site "by sundry gunmen".

Professor France said it was crucial for military historians to visit battle sites. He gave the example of Antioch, besieged in 1097. It is known that the city was egg shaped but maps do not reveal the 500m rise between the city and its citadel.

"Most historians have written about Antioch as though it is one city, without realising how wild and separate the citadel is."

Professor France, a co-editor of the Journal of Medieval Military History , was also confident he had discovered the site of Dorylaeum, the first great battle between Islam and the Crusaders.

He pinpointed the site by calculating how quickly the Crusaders could travel on Anatolia's Roman roads and searching for marshland where two valleys meet. It is now a motorway service station.

The series features extras and props from the recent Hollywood movie Kingdom of Heaven , which failed to impress Professor France. "It was unduly slow and ponderous, and the Siege of Jerusalem was very largely rubbish. We'd all seen a much better siege in Lord of the Rings ."

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