Bronstein cover

De Re Militari | Book Reviews

Judith Bronstein

The Hospitallers and the Holy Land: Financing the Latin East, 1187-1274

(Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2005). xv+190 pp., 5 Maps, US$80.00/£45.00., ISBN 1 84383 131 7.

This monograph is a revised doctoral dissertation originally submitted and defended in Cambridge. The author surveys the economic response taken by the Hospitaller Order to the military crises it faced in the Latin East during the period of 1187 and 1274. The core of the study is an analysis of the Hospitallers’ contribution to the defense of the Holy Land. Dr. Bronstein convincingly argues that as opposed to the wide-spread criticism of contemporaries, perpetuated by modern historians, the Hospital made great efforts in proportion to its resources. These efforts manifested themselves in structural changes of the leadership of the Order following the disastrous defeat at Hattin as well as and the changes in the financial policy of the French priories in the thirteenth-century.

The opus has four chapters (The Hospitallers in the Holy Land, 1187-1274; The Order in the West and Crises in the Latin East: The French Priories; The Popes, the Hospitallers, and Crises in the Holy Land; Members of the Order Serving in the Latin East and in the French Priories) which are divided into subchapters. Chapter 4 is remarkable for its brevity (7 pages) and for the fact it has to be used in conjunction with the Appendix containing the prosopographical data. The main text is augmented by 5 maps, a bibliography and an index of personal names, toponyms and subjects.

The period covered in the survey is felicitous for two reasons. The defeat at Hattin (1187) and the Second Council of Lyon (1274) are indeed milestones in the history of the Hospital. By starting with Hattin the author avoids the dispute over the militarization of the Order. The majority of the scholars of the field agrees that by the 1180s the original activity of the Order, that is “caring for the sick,” was augmented by “fighting for the faith” in the Latin East. By ending with the Second Council of Lyon the author avoids the issues leading to the reorganization of the entire crusading movement. Thus Dr. Bronstein follows the model set by scholars of the “pluralist” school of the Crusades (e.g., J. Riley-Smith, N. Housley, S. Schein, E. Siberry, etc.) The choice of the period from the point of view of the available sources is also adequate. Though the collection edited by J. Delaville Le Roulx [1] is far from complete, Dr. Bronstein made use of a large corpus of (published and unpublished) archival resources from the period in question. She also utilized narrative sources, though, the emphasis is on charters.

The strongest part of the book is Bronstein’s narrative of how the defeats at Hattin and at La Forbie (1244) induced palpable changes in the overall structure and life of the Hospital. Although both blows caused similarly acute shocks, they led to different reactions on the long run. While shortly after the defeat at Hattin the the Order saw an increase in its economic resources from around 1200, the years following La Forbie never saw such a „revival” .

The selection of the region covered in this study, that is, the “French” priories of the Hospital (France, St. Gilles, Auvergne), is appropriate since a substantial part of the Order’s revenue was collected from these provinces. This region provides a representative sample of economic data, however, it is also a reason for caution, for it is dangerous to extrapolate from figures derived from these priories upon the rest of Europe, especially on the priories located in the continent’s periphery.

Dr. Bronstein surveyed the secondary sources and avoided the bulk of general scholarly literature. The author briefly outlines the hierarchy of the Hospital, its basic officers and the most relevant concepts. At certain points one may raise questions, for instance over the actual amount of responsio (p. 7.), as it is hard to believe that the majority of the commanderies abided to 1/3 of the gross receipts of the administrative unit prescribed by the twelfth-century Hospitaller rule. A clarification of the functioning of the responsio-system warrants further research. From the fourteenth century onwards, for instance, the responsio most often was a pre-determined sum that the priory or the commandery owed to the center of the Hospital.

Dr. Bronstein provides a very detailed picture on the Order’s response both on the Latin East and in the French priories: the structural changes introduced after Hattin, the turns in the overall policy of the Hospital concerning investments and alienation of properties, and leases throughout the period surveyed. Nonetheless, at times it is hard for the reader to estimate the relative value of the sums and prices cited. For instance, how much money did popes give to the military-religious orders from the redemption of crusader vows and to what extend were these orders able to realize it as income (e.g., p. 117.), and how substantial were these sums in relationship to their incomes?

A firmer understanding of economic and financial terms as applied to the middle ages would have aided clarity: what did serious financial burdens, crisis or insolvency in the twelfth-thirteenth-century context (cf. p. 22.) mean? The reviewer is well aware of the fact that the sources are rarely helpful in this respect, but evaluations like these can be misleading. It is striking that the balance of account of the orders often revealed deficits that alone do not justify their longevity. The solution is to be sought in the “special” accounting of these orders, since they most likely did not register all the incomes.

Although the question of indulgencies is not the central theme of the work some tantalizing issues emerge, such as the importance of the indulgence granted to the Hospitallers and to those who fought with them against the Mongols (p. 118) to which Anthony Luttrell has already drawn attention [2]. In her book Dr. Bronstein reveals that this was not unprecedented since Lucius III issued a letter in 1184 (p. 104.) with such a purpose, as did Gregory IX in 1229 -- though the latter aimed at „qui se domus vestre servitio devoverunt” (p. 111.). It would be beneficial at least to compare these texts in due course.

This book is to be commended for providing a firm basis for further studies for scholars of different fields, but especially for those who are interested in the history of the military orders since the book covers much more than its title indicates. This is a well written, easy-to-follow book despite the huge amount of data it covers. This reviewer has the impression that at certain points the footnotes would have been better used inserted into the main text (e.g, p. 86). Minor typos remain in the footnotes but, as a whole, the work meets the highest scholarly standard. Dr. Bronstein’s book is an important contribution to the twelfth-thirteenth-century history of the Hospital as well as to the Holy Land, and deserves the attention of a broad readership. It is also a reminder to students of military history of the three fundamental requirements of war: money, money and money.


[1] Cartulaire général de l’ordre des Hospitaliers de S. Jean de Jérusalem (1100-1310). 4 vols. Paris, 1894-1906.

[2] A. Luttrell, “The Military Orders: Further Definitions.” Sacra Militia 1 (2000): 10-11.


Zsolt Hunyadi

University of Szeged, Hungary <>

Page Added: July 2006