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De Re Militari | Book Reviews

David S. Bachrach

Religion and the Conduct of War, c.300- c.1215

(Woodbridge, Suffolk, The Boydell Press, 2003). 216pp. ISBN: 0851159443 USD $75.00.

In this work which still bears the stamp of a doctoral dissertation in composition and organization, Dr. David Bachrach traces the intertwining of two primal themes in medieval history: war and religion. He follows his illusive quarry with considerable skill across a vast swath of time from late antiquity to the era of the crusades. In this interesting and much-needed discussion of religion as an ideology of war and war as a tool of religion, he reviews the religious rituals of individual soldiers and armies in general as well as the influence of such spiritual rites on societies of northwestern Europe. This methodology is replicated across a very long time line which Dr. Bachrach somewhat artificially divides into discrete periods.

For me, the most interesting sections of this work were those dedicated to the nascent religious mores of late imperial or barbarian armies (11-24, 43-62). These forces, composed of both pagans and Christians, often acted as religious litmus tests for the states they served and effectively anticipated the advance of Christianity. In this regard, the discussion of the battle oration, which completed an army’s sacramental cleansing before it took the field (42-43, 87-89, 120-121), is particularly interesting. Much less interesting and more predictable is Dr. Bachrach’s treatment of the "military religion" associated with the Crusades. This section (108-150) owes much of its direction to the modern-day "crusade industry" headed by the prolific Jonathan Riley Smith.

Despite the great scope of this work and a certain unevenness between the sections (which is surely dictated by the surviving sources), Dr. Bachrach has done an admirable job in producing a well-written and well-reasoned treatise from a mass of seemingly-unrelated facts and unrelated or opposed historical theories. He might consider reviewing, however, the same type of materials for other sections of Europe to ascertain if religion played a similar role in the wars of these regions or if (as so many medievalists still seem to believe) northwest Europe set the standard for all of the Continent during the medieval centuries.

Donald J. Kagay

Albany State University, Albany, NY <dkagay@earthlink.net>

Page Added: September 2003