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De Re Militari | Book Reviews

Iris Shagrir, Ronnie Ellenblum and Jonathan Riley-Smith, eds.

In Laudem Hierosolymitani. Studies in crusades and medieval culture in honour of Benjamin Z. Kedar

Crusades subsidia 1. SSCLE-Ashgate, 2007. 492 pp. ISBN. 978-0-7546-6140-5. US$134.95.

Prof. Benjamin Z. Kedar is a very well known and respected scholar who has a wide range of interests, mainly focused on the medieval history of the Holy Land, sea trade and the relations between Christian and Muslims around the Mediterranean. The present book comprises 31 articles, covering a wide range of topics, from history of art and archaeology to literature and military enterprises.  There are some articles seem like strange additions to this volume, though, but for the purposes of this review I am going to focus on those articles that could be of interest for medieval military historians. Those articles are mainly concentrated between pages 61-110 and 309-385.

Let us start with the contribution by Talmon-Heller on counter-crusade preaching. Focusing on twelfth century, Syria Talmon offers to us a quite instructive glimpse of how Muslim preaching developed. It is true that that yihad preaching in that context is known as “countercrusade”, despite the basics of yihad preaching being essentially the same both before and after the 1095 crusade, except for a few specific topics. Anyway, is a very interesting article.

The same geographical area, but one century later, is covered by  R. Amitai in his article about the Mongol administration of the Levant, including the role of military officers. If not original, this author offers a very helpful summary -- including an updated bibliography -- of recent researche about occupied Syria.

The article by Boas focuses on crusade pattern settlement. He argues that there were three stages in the evolution of rural settlement, parallel to the three generations of castle-building, and according to the changing political situation. He identifies three different moments, each one with a specific type of building:

a. conquest and settlement (1094-1140), with fortified administrations depots and outpost (with different roles: residence, administration and depots of taxes in kind)

b. consolidation and expansion of Frankish rural settlement(1140-1170), with villages and fortified farming or manor houses (with a courtyard design) including a degeneration of fortified sites

c. an increasing period of insecurity, with a more defensive approach exemplarified by the fortification (castles) and refortification of rural sites, estate centres and monasteries.

In another related article, Ellenblum focuses on a very specific topic of the castle and, specifically, on the existence and location of the citadel of Jerusalem.  The article uses archaeological as well as literary sources. His conclusion is that we cannot speak of a citadel of Jerusalem (inside the David tower) prior to 1230 and the first phase for that citadel is from around 1233.

Perhaps the most controversial article is the one written by Bernard Bachrach about the real purpose and destination of the first crusade. He starts with quite a bold statement: so far no one has ever tried to explain why Urban II decided in 1094 to send an entire army to Jerusalem over land, passing through the Greek empire, and thus facing a great deal of territory crowded with infidels. A few pages later he makes it more precise and recognizes that there have been some historians, like Becker and Lilie, that have in fact explained the reasoning behind this decision: it was an attempt to help Byzantium and the eastern churches. In this point this reviewer believes that Bachrach may have benefited from further reading. Bachrach’s main point is that

Urban chose to send the army to Constantinople, contrary to strategic rationality, and not directly to Jerusalem. He did this, because… he wanted a western army, presumably under papal control to be mobilized in the environs of the capital city of the East Roman empire.

In the end, the papal aim was to try to fix up the problem of the Schism, “Jerusalem” being only a slogan to dupe a voluntary crusader army into heading eastward (p. 326). Bachrach needs to explain why the direct sea route to Jerusalem would have not just been possible but also much more useful and more logical from a military point of view (taking as precedent the 1087 Mahdia campaign).

Curiosly enough, this festschrift offers some very good articles for people interested in medieval naval history such as those by Pryor (on Acre and Aigues-Mortes´s ports), Jacoby (about venetian sailing to Acre including references to the needed military equipments) and Balard (about the origins of the port of Caffa). Pryor states that the Chain of the Golden Horn, floated on many baulks of tree trunks, was deployed only on moments of crisis and its effectiveness depended on the fleet that protected from behind.

Noah Harari give us two clear conclusion to his work about the military knowledge and power of the medieval military:

1. “on campaign, the gap in operational knowledge between medieval commanders and soldiers was surprisingly small” (as knowledge in concentrated on the frontline)

2. In this way, with almost as much information as his frontline officers,  the common soldier of stateless armies was more powerful and was more able to react that modern soldier, even forcing his own conditions.

Those are very interesting ideas but I think that he should need much more pages and casuistic to properly base his points.

I personally expected more from Friedman and Menache. The former presents a kind of preview to her forthcoming article on “Peace and Peacemaking processes in the Holy Land”, in this case showing some milites engaged in diplomatic relations and the gestures involved. Meanwhile, Sophia Menache offers to us a small update of her 1987 article about the very same figure of D. Alfonso, Master of Calatrava. The last article by Paul Chevedden are quite useful, but also problematic.

It is a pity that this volume does not include an index that would have been extremely helpful taking into account the great variety of subjects and characters it tackles. On the other hand there are numerous plans and black and white photos to illustrate the different articles.

To sum up: Most of the articles in the present volume are worthy of a book assembled in honour of Prof. Kedar. No doubt this is a must for anyone interested in the Holy Land and sea trade around the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, crusade and military historian will take profit of some very interesting approbations.

Jose Manuel Rodriguez Garcia

UNED. Spain <jose_m_rodriguez@telefonica.net>

Page Added: September 2009