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De Re Militari | Book Reviews

Marcus Bull and Norman Housley (eds.)

The Experience of Crusading. Vol. 1: Western Approaches

(Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. 2003). pp. 307. $70. ISBN 0521811686.

While not feasible to thrash out a treatise of all the papers –one does endeavour to append an auxiliary appraisal to this volume. The study offers a compilation of seventeen essays which unveils the pre–eminence of existing scholarship –ranging from miracula sources to the bank–balances of those crusading; the motivation for energetic Italian republics and medieval diplomacy. From ecclesiastical persons to the differentials and interactions between bellum sacrum and bellum iustum –this volume is simply the most scholarly yet manageable print available on the bookshelves.

The opening chapter, afforded by Marcus Bull is scholarly unforgettable –especially the discussion on miracula sources (pp.25–38). [i] Like all narrative sources, Bull reminds the reader that, "we encounter a close relationship between (crusading as an) activity and (crusading as)…coherent reflections" (p.15). This reminds the reviewer in bridging the Christian faith with the phenomenon of (fifteenth/sixteenth century) Asiatic–inspired travelogues. Undeniably, miracula provide invaluable light on "perceptions that activated crusading enthusiasm" (p.25). Similarly, and in relation to the voyages of discovery, peddling oriental exotica manufactured an unrelenting quest for the Eastern edge of the world, through a landscape made menacing by monsters and evil portents –despite the backdrop provided by John Wright in The Geographical Lore of the Time of the Crusades.

Princeton professor, Giles Constable's epigrammatic five–page dedication arguably provides reasoning for the eruption of the Second Crusade. What is more, this inestimable chapter provides an up–dated version –on the conquest of Lisbon (1147)– to an article written some fifty–years earlier by the same author in 1953 (p.39).

The third instalment supplied by Norman Housley introduces the reader to the crusading policy of the popes "shaped by the solvency and insolvency of their Italian bankers" (p.45). However, Housley stresses that despite the danger of discounting financial considerations, there is a corresponding jeopardy that an over–emphasis of funding disfigures crusading history –"by making commitment hinge on the state of bank balances" (p.46). Interestingly, the restructuring from a conventionally–dominated era of recuperation terra sancte strategy into one characterised by asymmetrical hit–and–run raids engineered a less expensive corollary (p.52).

The background offered by Christopher Marshall, initially makes one suspicious of the Italian (commercial) motivation from the time of the First Crusade (p.61). However, if exclusively commercially–orientated, the Italians would appear as mercenaries –"independent force" to quote Marshall –which was not the case (especially with reports portraying the Genoese at the siege of Caesarea in 1101 bearing the Cross on their right shoulder, and calling Christ in their need: pp.65, 70). With such explicit demonstrations of Christ's omnipotence and classical crusader terminology by Italian republic forces –Marshall rapidly states that they were "undoubtedly crusaders themselves" finally obliterating any conspiratorial material factors "that may have been seen to predominate" (p.64). The most scholarly chapter (and well–referenced) of the volume culminates with a fitting excerpt upon the return of the Venetians to their homeland (from the Holy Land) –again qualifying "the religious aspect of the journey which had been undertaken" (p.79).

Jonathan Phillips's chapter, akin to Constable's, concerns influences of the first crusade upon the second; contesting that Odo of Deuil's De profectione Ludovici VII is "more complex" than is habitually believed and "should be used with greater care" (p.95). Philips eruditely provides references to events (strategic routes in 1096–97) to qualify the First Crusades influence. What is more, the University of London tutor illustrates that the philosophy of vengeance and the notion of sons following in the footsteps of their parents were "prominent in the preaching of the Second Crusade" (p.84).

With neither England nor France evidencing intention of crusading, James Powell's attention–grabbing contribution catalogues Pope Innocent III's failed diplomacy (two–track policy: p.100). Innocent urged Byzantine emperor Alexius to "show his goodwill by supporting the beleaguered crusader states" (p.97). One concurs with Gary Dickson's (University of Edinburgh fellow) prior review of the seventh chapter (Catholic Historical Review 2005) that, John Pryor's "essay on the fourth–crusade Venetian fleet comes as a breath of fresh sea air" undergirded with his discussion of "pirates" (pp.109–111).

Anna Sapir Abulafia's chapter theologically–numbingly considers the Christian–Jewish debate and the "pivotal stage…in anti–Judiasm" (p.129). Nonetheless, Abulafia, correctly states that (in twelfth century thinking) Jews began to be perceived as quasi–human, thus corroding tolerance towards Jews. Mirroring Housley's chapter however, Abulafia restrains herself and reminds us that, "there is a danger of concentrating so much on the evolving negative views" (p.131).

With Popes (Gregory and Urban) not being comfortable with the branding of monks as milites (p.147), James A. Brundage's chapter exhibits how canonists (Johannes Teutonicus) crafted ("merging extracts from Gratian's Decretum –that referred to ecclesiastical persons –and from them constructed a definition of the term into which he then fitted Templars": p.156) a new "class of ecclesiastic persons" revamping the medieval church's juristic construction –compliant with military command (p.155).

Penny J. Cole's Humbert of Romans often looses the reader and makes regrettably dull reading for the tenth chapter in. Contained within a bulging 18–page episode, on the other hand, H.E.J. Cowdrey intellectually discusses the differentials and interactions between bellum sacrum (Holy War) and bellum iustum (Just War) (p.189). In tune with Cowdrey's chapter, John France scholarly expands on Augustinian "just war" whilst informatively divulging medieval martyrdom (pp.202–205).

Colin Morris, reviewing the matching volume for the English Historical Review (2004), proffered an historical parallel with contemporary events –most beneficial for those embryonic scholars not yet wholly conversant in medieval studies. However, when trawling through the text the vacuum of crusade ideology and alas no evidence to catalogue the historical precedents of crusading on world history proves a downfall.[ii] From my restricted understanding however, any conversion of the latter theme would sit unevenly with the "Riley–Smith touch" that such a dedication is intended to compliment (pp.1–3).


[i] The title highlights the manifestation during the Crusades, when men of the Latin West were becoming accustomed with the peoples of the eastern Mediterranean (ex oriente lux) –the polemic fantasies of the day (such as The Travels of Sir John Mandeville and Letters of Prester John) proved just too fantastic.

[ii] The proper corollary of Jacob's Ford (assaulted by Saladin in 1179), is now evident. With its location rediscovered and archaeological excavation ongoing –the fall of this seemingly obscure fortress was essentially a pivotal moment in the history of the Crusades. However, the reader would be unconscious of this phenomenon –despite the recent publication date:

Lee P. Ruddin

<>Independent Scholar <>

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