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De Re Militari | Book Reviews

Judi Upton-Ward

The Military Orders: Volume 4, On Land and by Sea

Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008. xvii + 292 pp. $114.95. ISBN 978-0-7546-6287-7.

This volume is the most recent compilation of papers presented at the annual conference on the military orders held at St. John’s Gate in Clerkenwell, London.  The volume is a refreshing look at the work being done on the military orders as the articles cover a broad range of topics and geographical areas ranging from historiographical hotspots in Western Europe, the Mediterranean and the Holy Land to less explored regions such as Scandinavia, Poland, Hungary, and Croatia.  Also notable is the number of articles that make extensive use of archaeology and textual analysis.  On the other hand, although the range of topics is broad, most of the articles focus on the Templars or Hospitallers, especially the latter, with limited attention devoted to the smaller orders or even the Teutonic Knights.  Second, in spite of the title, only four of the articles explicitly deal with the orders’ maritime operations; the bulk of the volume is devoted to activities on land. 

The book is divided into two sections.  The first, dealing with “General Issues,” includes eight essays, while the second, “Specific Issues,” has the remaining nineteen.  The editor notes in her brief introduction that dividing the articles was difficult, hence these two broad classifications.  But as she does not give any criteria as to why essays fall into one category of the other, the layout at times seems rather arbitrary.  For example, why place Piers Mitchell’s essay, “A Comparison of Health at a Village and Castle in the Kingdom of Jerusalem during the Twelfth Century” in the “General” section while reserving Theresa Vann’s article on “The Fifteenth-Century Maritime Operations of the Knights of Rhodes” for the section on “Specific Issues”?

The articles themselves range in quality from good to excellent, as there is nothing here that can be deemed unworthy of inclusion.  In what follows, I will highlight only the most salient points of each piece as anything other than that would be beyond the scope of this review.  The “General Issues” section can be broken down into two groups of four articles each.  The first group has relatively long articles that strongly engage their subject matter beginning with Alan Forey’sMilites ad terminum in the Military Orders during the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries,” (chapter 1) which highlights the service rendered to the orders by temporary members.  Darius von Güttner Sporzyński follows with a wonderful summary of some of the “Recent Issues in Polish Historiography of the First Crusade” (chapter 2).  Jürgen Sarnowsky’s “The Military Orders and their Navies” (chapter 6) is an exceedingly able introduction to the maritime activities of the Templars, Hospitallers, and Teutonic Knights.  And Section I concludes with Luís Adão da Fonseca’s analysis of the role of the “Portuguese Military Orders and Oceanic Navigations,” (chapter 8) in which he argues that the history of Portuguese expansion in the fifteenth and sixteenth is inextricably linked to the history of its military orders, notably Santiago and the Order of Christ.  The remaining four articles in Section I all make contributions, oftentimes on important and captivating topics, but they are often too brief to be effective.  A good example is the above mentioned article by Piers Mitchell (chapter 3) which offers a fascinating look at peasant diets in the Levant using archaeological remains, but which ends all too quickly (6 pages that include two images and a chart).  Karl Borchardt’s “Competition between the Military-Religious Orders in Central Europe, c. 1140 – c. 1270” (chapter 4) is likewise limited by its brevity, but in this case there may be little else to be done due to a poverty of sources.  In “The Military Orders and the Chronicle of Morea,” (chapter 5) Kristian Molin does a close textual analysis on the various versions of the Chronicle to argue that the military orders were almost invisible in the Peloponnese over the course of the thirteenth century, only to increase their presence in the fourteenth.  Finally, Christer Carlsson gives us a tantalizing look at the evolution of the orders in Scandinavia, particularly in the later Middle Ages, and his research hints at the wealth of untapped sources that await further study concerning the history of the orders in the northern latitudes. 

For Part II, “Specific Issues,” I have tried to organize the essays by subject matter in order to highlight some of the dominant themes explored at the conference.  This is my own classification and as with any classification, most of the articles straddle multiple categories.  There are five articles that explore the relationship between the orders and secular powers or surrounding communities (chapters 13, 15, 22, 24, and 25).  Ignacio de la Torre’s analysis of the financial services rendered by the Templars to the English and French crowns is a fine introduction to a host of complex issues and a good starting point for anyone interested in the Templars’ banking activities.  Moving south, Carlos Barquero Goñi explores the relationship between the Hospitallers and the Catholic Kings of Spain.  Nicholas Morton, in “The Teutonic Knights during the Ibelin-Lombard Conflict,” challenges the prevailing view that the Teutonic Knights consistently supported Frederick II in his civil war with barons of the Levant.  Instead, he argues that the order took a more pragmatic approach, careful not offend those upon whom they depended.  The last two essays in this category, H.J.A Sire’s “The Priory of Vrana: The Order of Saint John in Croatia” and Emmanuel Buttigieg’s “Encounters with the ‘Other’: Hospitallers and Maltese before the Great Siege of 1565,” contextualize how the Hospitallers negotiated with and adapted to local situations.

Another five articles examine to varying degrees the internal workings of the military orders (chapters 10, 16, 17, 18, and 21).  Myra Bom’s piece, “The Hospital of St. John, the Bedroom of Caritas,” focuses on an anonymous text describing the Hospital in Jerusalem and linking it to the “intellectual understanding of charity.(p. 86Zsolt Hunyadi’s, “Hospitaller Estate Management in the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary, (Thirteenth to Fourteenth Century),” once again takes us to an underexplored region in the historiography of the military orders.  “Aspects of Non-Noble Family Involvement in the Order of the Temple” by Jochen Schenk and “Regulations Concerning the Reception of Hospitaller Milites in the First Half of the Fifteenth Century” by Pierre Bonneaud both assess the place of nobility in the membership of the two biggest orders.  Finally, we have Anne Gilmour-Bryson’s “Templar Trial Testimony: Voices from 1307 to 1311,” a captivating essay which surveys the dominant themes in the Templar depositions as the order neared its suppression in 1312.

There are four articles that revolve around specific figures associated with the different orders (chapters 9, 12, 14 and 27).  The first of these, by Luis García-Guijarro Ramos, attempts a new interpretation of Hugh de Payns letter to his brethren helping to define their new role as purveyors of sacred violence.  Malcolm Barber continues with an article which offers a more balanced interpretation of the reputation of Gerard de Ridefort, Master of the Temple at the time of Hattin and one of those who has borne the heaviest burden for the defeat of the Crusader forces in the eyes of modern historians.  The third article in this section, David Bryson’s “Murder in the Preceptory: The Strange Case of Peter of Valbéon, Preceptor of the Hospitaller House of St. Naixent (Dordogne), 1277-1304,” is framed as a murder mystery in the context of the Anglo-French struggle over Gascony in the early fourteenth century.  Finally, Victor Mallia-Milanes, in “A Man with a Mission: A Venetian Hospitaller on Eighteenth Century Malta,” examines the life of Massimiliano Buzzaccarini Gonzaga and the relationship between Malta and Venice.

Architecture and archaeology are the basis of three other articles (chapters 11, 19 and 26).  Denys Pringle’s study of the Jerusalem Hospital fills in some lacunae in our understanding of the building including the place of a conventual church and “other conventual buildings, including the dormitory, refectory and chapter house.(p. 109)  “ Funerary Monuments of Hospitaller Rhodes: An Overview” by Anna Maria Kasdagli examines the resting places of Hospitallers, notably the masters, on the island of Rhodes.  Its findings’, however, are limited and the author herself admits that more research is needed before we are able to extract all the information that the tombs have to offer.  Finally, Christopher Gerrard and Robert Dauber offer a fascinating look at graffiti of ships found the Hospitaller preceptor at Ambel in Zaragoza, Spain.  The article asks two important questions: what can these graffiti add to our naval archaeology and who was responsible for drawing them in the first place?

The two articles that deal specifically with the military activities of the Hospitallers in the Mediterranean make up our last topical category.  Michael Heslop’s “The Search for the Defensive System of the Knights in Southern Rhodes” is among the most engaging of all the contributions and he supplements his analysis with excellent maps.  Finally, Theresa M. Vann’s “The Fifteenth Century Maritime Operations of the Knights of Rhodes” looks at the naval policy of the Knights of Saint John, concluding that the order based its strategy to defend Rhodes on a combination of fortification and small fleets. 

Jarbel Rodriguez

San Francisco State University <jarbel@sfsu.edu>

Page Added: November 2009