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De Re Militari | Book Reviews

Karl Borchardt, Nikolas Jaspert, and Helen J. Nicholson (eds.)

The Hospitallers, the Mediterranean and Europe: Festschrift for Anthony Luttrell

Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007. Pp. xiv+321.

For a general military historian expecting descriptions of the orchestration of battle and discussion of military institutions, this collection of essays offered in honor of the great historian of medieval military orders, Anthony Luttrell, will seem somewhat like the report of a secret society.  Despite the structural complexities of the field these essays represent, both medieval and military historians will be rewarded by a close reading of this eclectic collection that throws light on various aspects of crusading as well as the religious and secular influences of the military orders on the Mediterranean and across regions as diverse as England, Hungary, and Spain.

Since the golden age of military orders coincided with the period of active crusading between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, it is not unusual that the largest section of this collection focuses on this epoch.  Though not divided by topic, the three sections of the work contain articles that can be arranged by subject.  In the first of these that deals with the medical and military aspects of the Hospital in its initial phase, Benjamin Kedar deals with the original Hospital established in Jerusalem from the mid-eleventh century and its origins in Amalfi and connections with similar Muslim institutions.  By a thorough examination of crusade indulgences from Western Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Judith Bronstein contends that the Hospitallers had a hybrid medical/combat role from their very beginnings.  The second division of the book’s first section focuses on the complex institutional development of the various military orders.  Jochen Burgtorf reviews the career of Boniface of Calamandrana, Grand Master of the Hospital in the East and West between 1266 and 1299 who maintained the order’s position in the eastern Mediterranean while accommodating to the advance of Aragon as a regional power in the western Mediterranean.  Peter Herde focuses on a bitter legal dispute of 1276 over the control of the church of Down Ampney between the Hospitallers and the bishop of Worcester which displays clear ecclesiastical and royal fissures.  Alan Forey writes on the use of various forms of incarceration as a way of punishment in the later medieval Hospital for offenses that would also cause the loss of habit.  The third section of the first part centers on  the relationship of the crusading orders to its Muslim and Christian neighbors in the Middle East.  Bernard Hamilton discusses the emergence of the fanatical Shiite group of the eleventh and twelfth century, the Assassins, and its leader, the Old Man of the Mountain and their ties with the Knights Templars that set the stage for the Third Crusade.  Peter Edbury deals with the same events through an assessment of the literary lens of the Old-French version of William of Tyre’s chronicle.  David Jacoby focuses his research on the varied roles of Hospitaller ships in the Mediterranean by tracing the technical aspects of such vessels and in assessing their importance in the order’s long-distance trade and transport of pilgrims.

The second section of this work is divisible into articles that deal with the architectural and institutional history of Hospitaller establishments in the island of Rhodes and elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean. Elizabeth Zachariadou traces the precarious existence of the monastery of St. John situated on the island of Patmos, an institution on the critical dividing line between Christian and Ottoman control that maintained this history of centuries-long rivalry in its very walls.  Anna-Maria Kasdagli follow this “from the ground up” approach by assessing the Latin and Greek inscriptions on the buildings, graveyards, and other sites scattered across Hospitaller Rhodes to get at the special dynamics of the island community from a different angle.  To gain a fuller understanding of how Hospitaller institutions functioned on Rhodes and throughout the eastern Mediterranean, Jurgen Sarnowsky and Gregory O’Malley discuss the visitation system of the order’s priories that from the early fifteenth century was set at a three-year period.  The former focuses on how this inspection mechanism functioned in all the European priories; the latter takes as his subject the long line of English and Irish visitors to and residents on Rhodes down to the island’s capture by the Turks in the sixteenth century.  Rhodes as a goal for Mediterranean migration as well as a symbol for a slowly dying crusading movement stand as the subject for two other articles.  In the first, Nicholas Coureas focuses on the steady stream of Cypriot and Syrian emigrants into Rhodes during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.  In the second, Norman Houseley builds on several of his earlier works to evaluate the fourteenth-century treatise of Emmanuele Piloti who hoped that his work would serve as a handbook of sorts for how the Holy Land could be freed and the eastern Mediterranean, including Rhodes, rid of the looming Ottoman threat.

The third section of this work can be divided according to the individual European countries in which various military orders had been established and operated.  Michael Gerven and Nicole Hamonic deal with the identity and location of English notaries responsible for the production of Hospitaller charters during the high Middle Ages.  Zsolt Hunyade moves the European focus to Hungary with his discussion of the Hospitallers’ role in carrying out the continuing crusades against the Ottoman Turks.  Johannes Mol centers on Germany in an article that describes a plan concocted by a grand master of the Teutonic Order in very year Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses which contained a set of interesting but completely unrealistic instructions for the conquest of the primitive region of Friesland on the North Sea.   The majority of the articles in this section center on the role of the Hospitallers in the various regions of the Iberian Peninsula. Luis García-Guijarro Ramos traces the confusing history of the Valencian bailiwick of Cervera which consisted of eight villages along the Mediterranean and passed through the hands of the Templars and of the new Iberian order of Montesa, and , finally, under the control of the Hospitallers during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.  Pierre Bonneaud focuses on the role of ancianitas “seniority,” a medieval custom which determined the sequencing of service by members of the priory of Catalonia who rendered service in eastern Mediterranean posts.  Carlos Barquero Goñi discusses the role of individual Hospitallers in the critical period of Navarrese history (1488-1512) during which Aragon’s great ruler, Fernando II “the Catholic” (1479-1516)conquered the Iberian half of the kingdom.

The last two articles of this work which deserve a section of their own deal in general terms with the survival of the Hospital and other military orders into modern times.  David Allen discusses the work of Sabba de Castilglione, a cousin of the author of The Courtier, who attempted to update the appeal of the military orders by delineating the various qualities that would make their members an amalgam of both literary, religious, and military attainments.  Castiglione’s Recordi, ostensibly written for his great nephew in 1546, stood as a guidebook for those wishing to enter the life of the Hospital during the height of the Renaissance and insisted that these neophytes be both military, religious, and physical athletes.  The final article of this collection, which may easily have gone first, was written by one of the deans of the study of military orders, Jonathan Riley-Smith.  As an expansion of an earlier lecture, his chapter in this collection is a general treatment of how the various military orders entered the modern world, gradually changing their primary roles as they did so.  Dropping their crusading activities against the Infidel, they turned more to the service of the poor.  Their appeal to a conservative strain in modern Catholicism has led to the emergence of various secular confraternities popular in both Europe and America.

At first sight, this set of essays seems extremely specialized with very little of interest for the general military historian.  With a little effort, however, scholars of all stripes will find these well-researched and well-organized articles full of invaluable information about medieval institutions that straddled ecclesiastical and secular life while forming and maintaining a framework for the continuing Christian war on Islam.

Donald J. Kagay

Albany State University <Donald.Kagay@asurams.edu>

Page Added: June 2009