Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A Matthew Paris illustration, mid-13th century

Just for the heck of it -- the French defeat at Gaza.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Military ordinances in St. Louis's army in Egypt, 1250

I am currently writing a book about Charny's Questions on War, which are concerned with resolving conflicts between men at arms according to the laws of arms. One thing that I have learned in the process of researching this book is that the law of arms as Charny saw it, and not just him either, was not the same as the rules for disciplining and managing an army. These rules were called ordinances, and they concerned such things as discouraging theft and fights within the army.

Today I was reading Matthew Paris's English History, an abbreviation of his Chronica Majora, and found a perfect example of the scope of ordinances. It also illustrates very nicely the potential for conflicts within armies, especially when high-ranking men from a variety of countries were in the same host.

This example comes from Paris's account of the crusade of St. Louis, King Louis IX of France, and it can be found in Matthew Paris's English History translated by J. A. Giles 2: 354-5. It concerns an English nobleman named William Longuespee who is campaigning with the French crusading force in Egypt, in 1250. He learns that merchants are passing near the crusading force, carrying luxury goods and necessities of life, which the Crusaders are short of. William attacks and successfully brings home the goodies. But the French (whom Matthew Paris famously despised) are not exactly overjoyed.

The French, who had remained inactive, and were in great want, stimulated by feelings of envy and avarice, met him, on his arrival, in a hostile way, and, like daring robbers, forcibly took from him all that he had gained, and imputing it to him as a sufficient fault, that, in his rash presumption, contrary to the King's order, and the ordinances of the chiefs of the army, and also to military discipline, he had proudly and foolishly separated from the whole body of the army.

Later William Longuespee goes to complain to King Louis of France; before they are done speaking the King's brother, the Count of Artois who "was the head and chief of this violent transgression and robbery," came in ranting about the evil actions of William. Among his complaints was this passage:

This man, in contempt of you and the whole army, urged by his own impetuosity, has of his own accord clandestinely carried off booty by night, contrary to our decrees; and owing to this, the fame of him alone, and not of the French King or his people, has spread to all the provinces of the East; he has obscured all our names and titles.

The end of the episode is interesting. King Louis refuses to do anything about the situation, excusing himself to William by saying "thus easily can a quarrel be originated, which God forbid should occur in this army. It is necessary at such a critical time to endure such things with equanimity, and even worse things than these." William, in contempt of Louis's supine (sensible?) attitude, leaves the army and goes off to Acre.

Image: Matthew Paris praying, as drawn by himself.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Richard W. Kaeuper, Holy Warriors: the Religious Ideology of Chivalry

Here is what I wrote about Richard Kaeuper's Holy Warriors for the online Medieval Review, a valuable electronic source for up-to-date reviews. It's free and sends the reviews right to your mailbox, and because it is electronic it allows and encourages reviewers to say more than they could in a print review. Here's where you can find subscription information, and here's where you go to search for past reviews.

Richard Kaeuper's most recent book is the product of remarkable learning. It takes a classic, well-studied topic of undoubted importance and, based on the author's wide and deep reading of both primary and secondary sources, not only sheds new and valuable light on its ostensible subject--the relationship between chivalry and religion in the Middle Ages--but also illuminates many other aspects of medieval history. Readers may well come away from this book with a whole new understanding of subjects that they thought they knew well. This reviewer, fresh from teaching a course on the Crusades, might well do things differently next time, thanks to Kaeuper's discussion of chivalry as struggle or labor.

Two decades ago, in his War, Justice, and Public Order: England and France in the Later Middle Ages (1988), Kaeuper found himself doubting that the values of chivalry as understood in the High Middle Ages were an unambiguous force for promoting civility and order: "The code of chivalry encouraged as much violence as it curbed" (7). Further research, notably extensive reading in chivalric epics and romance, led him to find unconvincing an older understanding of the relationship between Christianity and chivalry, that chivalry was a process of a more pacific clerical establishment slowly imposing its values on the warrior aristocracy. In Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (1999) he traced a convincing picture of the autonomous value system of knights who though they might aspire to courtliness and piety saw the core of their social identity in their prowess, and their right and duty to use force when they judged it appropriate.

The current book is a logical extension of Chivalry and Violence in that it focuses again on the self-image of knights, specifically how knights justified their way of life religiously. It is Kaeuper's primary contention that knights (or more generally well-armed, professional soldiers) had independent religious ideas that they adopted and adapted to suit their own needs, ideas that were related to those put forward by the clergy, but not a pale reflection of clerical theories and demands. This thesis deserves some detailed exploration before we look at an important secondary theme of the book, which is Kaeuper's demonstration that some of the most important theories of salvation were shaped by the existence and self-assertion of a Christian knighthood, the members of which could be either valuable allies or dangerous enemies of clerical interests and high-minded ecclesiastical efforts to reform the world.

First, let us look at what Kaeuper says about knightly self-image and how it related to the way penance and salvation were understood in medieval culture in general. Texts written by and for knights that tackled serious issues--practically by definition religious issues--upheld warrior values such as prowess (courage, skill, the prime warrior virtue) despite the frequent disapproval of clerics, but also identified other aspects of the knightly profession with universally admitted aspects of the economy of salvation. We might, following Kaeuper and the Book of Job, consider the equation of the struggle for salvation with militia (1-2); militia in medieval usage could mean not just military service or knighthood, but hard struggle, even suffering. The struggle or labor of human life was part of the punishment derived from the sins of Adam and Eve; but submitting oneself to hard work and other kinds of suffering were also constantly praised and encouraged by sermonizers and ascetic writers, because done right, as Christ did, it was the road to salvation. Knights believed that their own way of life was labor and led to pains experienced by no other mortals (though one wonders what their mothers thought of that argument), comparable, some said, to the work and suffering of Christ. Thus knights, when thinking about their participation in the process of salvation, could point to a perfectly orthodox claim to Christian respectability (if not one that was uncontested): imitatio Christi. Indeed, there was a lively debate; when rating their own spiritually valuable ascetic achievements, knights argued that monks could not bear the burdens of military life, and vice versa. Kaeuper provides a number of stories from his wide reading which illustrate the terms of that debate, with all its gruesome and humorous aspects, as in fact he does when discussing other arguments that arose from clerical-chivalric tensions. It is one of the great virtues of this book is that Kaeuper constantly keeps the reader aware that clerics often found themselves facing arguments justifying knighthood that were difficult to answer.

Kaeuper devotes a long chapter to discussing how the effort of the twelfth-century clerical reformers to create a working theology to guide the laity intersected with the developing ideology of chivalry--this being the century when chevalerie ceased to mean "horsemen" or "skill with horses" only, and became a moral status or aspiration. Reform in the twelfth century involved among other things an organized effort to define various legitimate professions of the human community, how each contributed at its best to the Christian life, and the dangers inherent in each profession. Among the lay ordines knighthood took a leading place, because the warrior aristocracy was the chief rival of the clergy in power, wealth and respectability. It may be that as much effort was put into defining and critiquing the military ordo as was devoted to all other laypeople together. For reformers there was much about warfare to criticize, but it was impossible to simply denounce or ignore the problem of the Christian warrior. Ecclesiastical authority had already conceded, in the form of crusade theology (still evolving, still rife with contradiction), that appropriate military service could gain salvation. Clerics used violence, and had to justify and theorize it. In this case, too, their expertise in learning failed to impose their formulation--that only violence authorized by the clergy and directed towards enemies of the faith was legitimate--on an unquestioning audience. Chivalric writers and clerical writers sympathetic to them appropriated what they liked about the theory of ordines and the theory of crusade, adapting what was useful to their own purposes and discarding the rest. Witness the way that treatises on chivalry, right from the very beginning, appropriated the language of ordo and ordines to give the "order of chivalry" an undoubted predominance in the Christian community, save only for the formal respect due to priests for their unique sacramental role. Witness the way proper warfare of any kind was seen by knights as equal in worth to expeditions to the Holy Land or against other unbelievers, equally pleasing to God.

Kaeuper continues to be interested in the end of the self-justifying, consciously Christian knightly identity and devotes his final chapter to "writing the death certificate for chivalric ideology." Here he provides the reader with a fuller and more convincing analysis of the death of medieval knighthood than he did in Chivalry and Violence, although it is not entirely satisfying. Kaeuper offers up several factors that contributed to the "death of chivalry." He suggests that since after the Reformation the penitential economy of the Middle Ages no longer made sense in much of the Christian West, its logic no longer could be appropriated to depict the well-armed professional warrior as a member of an autonomous Christian ordo. At the same time various developments made it easier to see knights as servants of the State (the Prince?) than as members of an international brotherhood, while the state became the source of all honor (a view seen, for instance, in the sixteenth-century biography of the Chevalier Bayard). It would have been interesting and useful if Kaeuper had said more about the tension between the ideas of knights as members of a "national" state (or subjects of a Sovereign) and knights as members of a class that transcended boundaries and allegiances. Admittedly he said quite a bit on this subject, but one feels that there is more to be said. It would have been interesting to see Kaeuper engage with the recent work of Crouch and Keen on the evolution of European ideas of nobility.

This book is well and entertainingly written, and is well-presented and designed. The University of Pennsylvania Press is to be congratulated for being willing to include the large bibliography and the extensive (and rich) scholarly apparatus that add much of value to Kaeuper's presentation. One can no longer take these things for granted, even from academic publishers. Also remarkable is the inclusion of a striking thirteenth-century illustration of an armored knight about to fight a phalanx of vices. It is reproduced on both the cover and the frontispiece, providing the reader with one incomplete but color reproduction plus one complete in black and white. This allowed the author to present a striking image to his reader, in a way that makes vivid some of the symbolism relevant to his argument. These things cost money and are sometimes skimped on; in this case the money was well spent.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

"Crazy stuff" in history

Apocalyptic belief, belief in a revelation of the end of time, usually a revelation that the end of time is just around the corner, probably qualifies for most people as "crazy stuff." Something suitable for more Terminator sequels, a graphic novel, or a heavy metal album. There is always a need for another heavy metal album about the end of the world.

But crazy or not, apocalyptic beliefs are pretty commonplace in real life, and have a stronger influence on politics and culture than most people who don't believe in the apocalypse would guess. Three countries whose politics is strongly affected by the apocalyptic beliefs of some influential people and a proportion of the general population are the United States, Israel, and Iran.

More than once in recent months I have read about the apocalyptic beliefs of the president of Iran. Shiism has always had an apocalyptic logic: roughly, they think that the leadership of the Muslim community was hijacked soon after the death of Prophet, that the true leaders have been in physical or spiritual exile ever since, and eventually that leadership will return to clean up the mess. But most Shiites don't wait with bated breath for the return of the Mahdi, just as most Christians don't think very much about the Book of Revelations (also known as the Apocalypse of St. John) when planning out their weekly activities. And a lot of Jews have given up on the return of the Messiah.

However, as support of the Islamic Revolution has been falling apart in Iran, the true believers in the revolution are turning more strongly to the belief that the end is near.

Here is what Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has to say about the subject:

It's both crazy and dangerous.

Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad believes and acts on the expectation that the reappearance of the Hidden Imam is imminent, and that U.S. efforts in the Middle East are primarily focused on preventing his return. Shi'ite Muslims believe that their 12th imam, the Mahdi, born in 869, did not die but was hidden by God and will eventually reappear as the savior of humankind, ending tyranny and bringing justice to the world. One-tenth of the world's Muslims and 85 percent of Iranians are Shi'a.

In a recent speech in the central city of Isfahan, Ahmadinejad said: "With those [U.S. troops] who came to occupy Iraq, the appearance was that they came just to exploit the oil. In reality, though, they know that something will happen in this region -- a divine hand will come soon to root out the tyranny in the world."

"And they know," he added, "that Iran is paving the way for his coming and will serve him."

Belief in the apocalypse and messianism are nothing new in human history. There are both Jewish and Christian messianic traditions, according to which a king of Israel or messiah will appear to herald global peace. And Shi'ite Muslims, unlike the majority of their Sunni co-faithful, have always believed in the Mahdi.

But Ahmadinejad and his main supporter among the ultra-conservative Iranian clergy, Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, a member of the Assembly of Experts, do not want to just peacefully hope and wait for the Mahdi. RFE/RL Radio Farda's analyst Majid Mohammadi says Ahmadinejad has introduced a completely new system in the Iranian politics: "a militarist and messianic Islamism."
There's more here.

The third and fourth paragraphs of the excerpt above reminds me very strongly of this version of Pope Urban's speech at Clermont. Surely not what was actually said, but this is what made sense to one informed and learned observer. This is what he thought the Pope should have said when he launched the First Crusade.
Interesting times, interesting times. Don't you just... love it? Well, maybe not.

Image: An impression of the return of the Mahdi to fight the Antichrist.

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Obama's Nobel Speech and Just War theory

Matthew Gabriele at Virginia Tech, who knows a thing or two about Crusading ideology, has a great analysis of Obama's Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

It's a fascinating speech in many ways. Agree or disagree on its merits, it's a learned speech -- one that understands its subject and that subject's history. All in all, it's a speech that some might say is positively medieval. I don't throw that term around lightly.

President Obama: just another post-WWII president, late antique Roman bishop, or the new Pope Urban II? If those were the choices, which would you opt for?

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Most Holy War: the Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom, by Mark Gregory Pegg

My review of this book is at The Michigan War Studies Review, specifically here.

Here's an excerpt:
A sense of the attractions of this book, as opposed to the several others available on the subject, may be gained from its last paragraph:

God's homicidal pleasure lasted another eighteen years. Mountaintop castles were assaulted. Castrum after castrum was razed to the ground. Young viscounts died of heartache. Counts were humiliated. Toulouse was besieged. Corpses fouled rivers. Great long meandering armies traipsed every summer from the Rhône to the Garonne. Vultures and ravens grew plump. Legates cried out for vengeance. Men died hearing Veni Creator Spiritus. Wives and little girls worked catapults. Great cats assaulted battlements. Skulls were crushed. Murder was a path to redemption. Vines and fields were devastated. A pregnant girl was mocked. Good men became heretics. A young count surrendered to a boy king. Inquisitors scoured the countryside. Heretics dangled from walnut trees. Very few who began the war lasted to the end. The world was changed forever (191)
This is not only a good sample of Pegg's hard-hitting, vivid, and economical style, but a reasonable summary of the book...

This might give the impression that A Most Holy War is an opinionated, emotional tirade, but such is not the case. Certainly there are opinions here, strongly presented, on all manner of events, movements, and developments. But Pegg, concerned to reveal the minds, emotions, and motives of his subjects, skillfully and gracefully uses quotations to give the voices of historical figures--clerics, counts, chroniclers, and troubadours--precedence over his own.

Readers unacquainted with Pegg's scholarship may be surprised by his presentation of the heresy Innocent III was trying to extirpate. In a previous book[1] and several articles and reviews, he has attacked a consensus going right back to the Middle Ages--that the heretics of the South of France, usually called "Cathars" or, earlier, "Albigensians," constituted a dualist counter-church. Its doctrines were descended from those of the Manichaeans, Bogomils, and Paulicians of Christian antiquity, and its growth owed much to missionaries from the Eastern Mediterranean beginning in the eleventh century. Pegg, on the other hand, believes this interpretation depends more on presuppositions of medieval heresy hunters (long since adopted by modern scholars) than on contemporary evidence. Theologians of the Middle Ages tended to see all disbelief as a single subversive plot against the truth. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, ecclesiastical authorities became increasingly obsessed with any deviation from "orthodox" teachings and rituals, both of which were being more strictly defined and enforced. In actual fact, Pegg argues, there were no Cathars or Albigensians till activist monks, bishops, and popes detected and named them....

Whether or not that position ultimately survives criticism, Pegg at least clearly explains his view of the nature of southern French deviance, emphasizing that the heretical leaders were commonly designated "good man" or "good woman," a form of address appropriate to just about any respectable person at the time. Similarly, he contends that the ritual greetings of heretical "believers" to their supposed leaders were mannerly gestures with no particular religious content. In the South, the exchange of courtesies, essential to the peace of a fragmented society, had its own flavor and terminology, and unsympathetic outsiders put a harsh interpretation on them. The efforts of these outsiders to control and reform southern French behavior according to their own standards, according to Pegg, had a strong effect on the culture of the church hierarchy and the theory and practice of crusade. Indeed, "the Albigensian Crusade is one of the great pivotal moments in world history .... The crusade ushered genocide into the West, changing forever what it meant to be Christian, what it meant to be like Christ" (xiv). This is Pegg's sincere justification for considering his book's subject to be a world-historical "pivotal moment."

Remarkably, this book's less than 200 pages of main text includes far more than a critique of heresiology and descriptions of the religious views of various major actors. It also outlines the politics and military activities of a more than twenty-year period through brief but vivid vignettes that well convey the flavor of original source material[.]

If the book has a flaw, it is its failure to draw sufficient connections between the Albigensian Crusade and the general phenomenon of crusading. Readers conversant with the career of Innocent III and his desire to mobilize all of Christendom against its various enemies might well wonder why a crusade in the South of France was so crucial a prelude to later genocide. It would not have taken more than a few paragraphs to make a stronger and clearer connection between the preaching of Gregory VII and Urban II against emperors and Turks, and Innocent's determination to rally Christendom to fight the whole disobedient world, whether Markward of Anweiler or Raimon of Toulouse or the Livs in the Gulf of Riga. The case for the uniqueness of the Albigensian Crusade is not made as strongly as it might have been.

Nonetheless, Pegg has succeeded in writing a stirring and memorable treatment of an event easily overlooked because it does not fit neatly into conventional narrative histories based on national boundaries and categories.

[1] The Corruption of Angels: The Great Inquisition of 1245-1246 (Princeton: Princeton U Pr, 2001)

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Heart and soul

In the next little while I will be reviewing Mark Pegg's A Most Holy War (on the Albigensian Crusade) for the Michigan War Studies Review. I am just now looking at it. It is a rather slim volume, and I rather expected that it would be an up-to-date -- or not -- summary of what is known about this 13th century crusade in southern France. But now I don't think so. For one thing, I was surprised and impressed by the preface in which Pegg lays it all out on the page, why and how he does history, which is with a great deal of personal involvement. Vide:
Any meditation on the past that starts with the presumption that some things are universal in humans or human society -- never changing, ignorant, immobile, -- is to retreat from attempting a historical explanation about previous rhythms of existence.... Arguing for immutable values from biology is no different from arguing for immutable values from theology -- selfish genes, selfish doctrines, they both deny history. Assuming that why we do what we do, what we think what we think, is somehow or other beyond our control, and that we would be this way in mind and body whether we lived in Cleveland in 1952 or Toulouse 1218, forfeits the vitality and distinctiveness of the past to the dead hand of biological determinism, cognitive hotwiring, psychological innateness, liberal pleas for bygone victims, conservative pleas for God-given principles, and amaranthine mush about authenticity.
I have nothing much to say about this except: I know (and have loved) the word amaranthine from the Gormenghast books I read 40 years ago, ("By all that's amaranthine" said the doctor) and I've yet to find an opportunity to use it myself. Pegg obviously tries harder.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Calling all Charny fans...

The Vatican appears to endorse the Templars-Charny-Shroud of Turin connection.

The "Geoffroy de Charney" mentioned in the Times article is the uncle of the Geoffroy who wrote The Book of Chivalry.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Even smaller wars wreck lots of things

Two discouraging stories from McClatchy news service:

The first is a video report on the lack of services in Iraq, with show and tell. Highly recommended. You will learn a lot about the modern world, and life on the Planet of Slums.

Then there is this:
Israeli soldiers say army rabbis framed Gaza as religious war.

Rabbis affiliated with the Israeli army urged troops heading into Gaza to reclaim what they said was God-given land and "get rid of the gentiles" — effectively turning the 22-day Israeli intervention into a religious war, according to the testimony of a soldier who fought in Gaza.

Literature passed out to soldiers by the army's rabbinate "had a clear message — we are the people of Israel, we came by a miracle to the land of Israel, God returned us to the land, now we need to struggle to get rid of the gentiles that are interfering with our conquest of the land," the soldier told a forum of Gaza veterans in mid-February, just weeks after the conflict ended.

A transcript of the testimony given at an Israeli military academy at the Oranim college on Feb. 13 was obtained on Friday by McClatchy and also published in Haaretz, one of Israel's leading dailies. The soldier, identified as "Ram," a pseudonym to protect his identity, gave a scathing description of the atmosphere as the Israeli army went to war.

Just what we needed, more holy warriors.

Image: work on a sewage treatment plant in Falluja, October 2008, not going well.
Among many other reasons: ""The project file lacked any documentation to support that the provisional Iraqi government wanted this project in the first place," [instead of even more pressing needs]. Rather, it appears that occupation authorities conceived of this project "for the Iraqis."

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Pining for Jerusalem?

From Jennifer Lynn Jordan:

I recently stumbled upon a really neat blog called Renbaudus. Renbaudus of Bernay is a Norman knight working as a legate for the abbot of Cluny, and Jean Philippe is video-blogging and documenting his journey to the Holy Land. There's a ton of interesting content, including a call to participate in the video-blog. Check it out!

I think the best place to meet Renbaudus is here. It's really just started. If you are interested in following the story or even participating, you can get on to it practically on the ground floor

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Crusader motivation

In a famous eyewitness account of the taking of Jerusalem in 1099, the crusading chaplain Raymond of Aguilers described a bloodbath at the Temple Mount (drawing, as has often been pointed out, on the Book of Revelations):

It was necessary to pick one's way over the bodies of men and horses. These are small matters compared to what happened at the Temple of Solomon, a place where religious services are ordinarily chanted. What happened there? If I tell the truth, it will exceed your powers of belief. So let it suffice to say this much, at least, that in the Temple and porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to the knees and bridle reins.. Indeed it was a just and splendid judgment of God that in this place should be filled with the blood of the unbelievers, since it suffered so long from their blasphemies. The city was filled with corpses and blood.... Now that the city was taken, it was well worth all of our previous labors and hardships to see the devotion of the pilgrims at the holy sepulcher. How they rejoiced and exulted and sang a new song to the Lord! For their hearts offered prayers of praise to God, victorious and triumphant, which cannot be told in words. A new day, new joy, me and perpetual gladness, the consummation of our labor and devotion, drew forth from all new words and new songs. This day, I say, will be famous in all future ages, for it turned our labors and sorrows into joy and exultation; this day, I say, marks the justification of all Christianity, the humiliation of paganism, and the renewal of our faith. "This is the day which the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it," for on this day the Lord revealed himself to his people and blessed them.

This passage relates to two questions that often come up in studying history, but particularly the history of the Crusades (or for that matter, jihad).

The first might be the question of sincerity. Did so-and-so undertake this project, or conquer this country, or start this war because he sincerely believed in his stated ideals? I find this as a historical question somewhat uninteresting. Every observer has his or her views as to how human nature works in general and in particular cases, say for instance, how kings and emperors act. It is hard to convince people to change their mind on this issue. So arguments about sincerity don't go very far unless you clearly define what you are talking about -- and people generally don't.

Part of the problem is terminology, especially the use of the word "religion." Often when people talk about "religion" they are talking about a creed or set of beliefs that someone else really (or doesn't really) believes in. Or they may mean a set of rules that members of a given religion are supposed to follow. But both beliefs and rules are usually discussed in terms of formal definitions laid down by higher authorities in well-defined religious organizations. If you look in detail about what individuals say they believe or how they actually act, you may well find that these individual "believers" or "followers" not to have the same "religion" as the great authorities. If a theologian says that Christianity believes thus, or a scholar says that Islam demands thus, it is trivially easy to find Christians or Muslims who do not believe or do those things. In any big-name religion, the greatest and most respected authorities only speak for one stream of a very diverse tradition. And if ordinary people attached to that tradition claim to be obedient followers, the outside observer may often find that they don't realize how far they are from literal adherence to proclamations of their leaders; or do realize, and have good reasons of their own for their particular interpretation of what the religion means.

Which brings us to the second question, which might be put this way: "Were the Crusades really about religion? What does holy war have to do with the teachings of Jesus?" My answer to these questions is, yes they were about religion (if you just want a war that were plenty closer to hand in 11th- century Europe) -- but what was that religion like? What was its actual content? Christianity in most varieties is a lot more than the teachings of Jesus. Put aside for the moment the vast diversity of the Bible, which makes it possible to find justification for almost anything in it, especially if you use sophisticated symbolic interpretation. More important, I think, is that even Christians with little or no firsthand knowledge of the Bible have strong opinions about what Christianity is. When we are talking about the motivations of Crusaders it is probably more useful to think about the individuals who trekked across the Balkans and Anatolia and how they acted, rather than what Pope Urban II said at Clermont (important as that might be in other contexts). When we are talking about the religion that led men to Jerusalem and helped produce the slaughter there, Raymond of Aguilers’s version of Christianity is as important as that of any Pope, or of Augustine of Hippo, if not more so.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Things I learned teaching "Crusade and Jihad" this fall

Since September I have been teaching a special topics course on Crusade and Jihad. In my very first teaching jobs, courses on the Early and High Middle Ages at the University of Toronto, the Crusades certainly came up (in the early medieval course they were one of the very last topics); but that was a quarter-century ago. I did not rely on my past understandings of the Crusades this time around, but read a lot of new material, most of which has appeared since 1990 or even 2000. I am particularly grateful to Thomas Madden for putting together a collection called The Crusades: Essential Readings and Christopher Tyerman for his huge new narrative history, God's War.

Here are the new thoughts and perspectives that I gained concerning crusading as a result:

1. Back in the day, I had a very French and English view of the Crusades. Now I take the Germans a lot more seriously. Next, the Italians.

2. I was fascinated by the number of northern European fleets that took part in early Crusades, fleets that were organized across what we think of as national boundaries. It is particularly interesting because we know very little about the people who had the clout and connections to put together such fleets. The maritime world was apparently a different political sphere entirely.

3. The connection between crusading and Imperial ideology fascinates me. This perspective I owe to Christopher Tyerman, who carefully analyzed and described the involvement of King Conrad, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, Emperor Henry VI, and Emperor Frederick II. Not to mention the would-be Emperor Charles of Anjou.

4. Having not read a lot of German accounts the Crusades, Tyerman's book was the first to make me aware how odd it is that we (or at least I) take almost without thinking the side of Frederick II’s enemies when evaluating the significance of his crusade to Jerusalem.

5. Perhaps most valuable to me is that reading lots of primary and secondary accounts of wandering crusading armies renewed my awareness of warriors as constituting for some purposes a separate society, battening on the settled communities through which they traveled. This awareness will come in useful when I write my next book, Men at Arms.

As far as what I learned about jihad this fall: I learned, thanks to Carole Hillenbrand, David Cook, Patricia Crone and Capt. John "Garick” Chamberlin, among others, that there's a lot to learn and that systematic historical discussion is just getting underway.

Image: a French king and a German emperor fight a sultan.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008


Juan Cole at Informed Comment is hoping that India does not make the mistakes that the USA did after 9/11. His piece includes this worthwhile passage:

There is a danger in India as we speak of mob action against Muslims, which will ineluctably drag the country into communal violence. The terrorists that attacked Mumbai were not Muslims in any meaningful sense of the word. They were cultists. Some of them brought stocks of alcohol for the siege they knew they would provoke. They were not pious. They killed and wounded Muslims along with other kinds of Indians.

Muslims in general must not be punished for the actions of a handful of unbalanced fanatics. Down that road lies the end of civilization. It should be remembered that Hindu extremists have killed 100 Christians in eastern India in recent weeks. But that would be no excuse for a Christian crusade against Hindus or Hinduism.

We could call the extremist cult the "Rivers of Blood" party. They would rather create rivers of blood than let people, say, rent videos at the corner store. Whatever specific thing is "bad," rivers of blood, or military spending, or labor camps are always "good."

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Visualize this

In 1215, the church council known as the Fourth Lateran Council required all Christians to support the upcoming (5th) Crusade either by going in person or by supporting others to go in their stead. Pope Innocent III threatened those who did neither thus:

If any shall be found so ungrateful to the Lord as to refuse, we warn them that they must answer for it to us before the terrible judge on the last day. Let all such consider with what conscience and what security they will be able to make their confession before the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, into whose hands the Father has given all things, if, in this matter which so peculiarly concerns them, they refuse to obey him who was crucified for sinners, by whose favor and goodness they live and are sustained, nay, more, by whose blood they are redeemed.

After you've read enough medieval ecclesiastical documents, it is easy enough to see this statement as formulaic. Stop for a moment and take it literally -- or try to. What did Innocent think would happen, really?

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Crusade! Happy Jihad!

Actually, I don't recommend either one for a roaring good time, unless your tastes run to rivers of blood. This is just my flip way of saying I had a very good time myself preparing and teaching my special topics course on Crusade and Jihad this fall. I'm not exactly done with it yet, there's a final exam to write and plenty of grading to do both before and after the exam, but all of my lectures and accompanying PowerPoint presentations are done.

Part of the enjoyment of this course has been a feeling that the students are also really enjoying it. (Course evaluations will eventually show how much they enjoyed it.) But there has been an intellectual thrill to what I personally have been doing, too. About a quarter of a century ago, when I was a new assistant professor, I taught the Crusades as part of a course on the High Middle Ages. I did a thorough and conscientious job of preparing those crusade lectures. Therefore, it was to a certain amount of astonishment that I returned to the subject in the last year or so (I begin to think about new courses long in advance) and found that the whole subject had changed dramatically in the meantime. The new interpretations of the crusading era were in part a matter of new perspectives, but some of those new perspectives were rooted in hard basic research. What a thrill to catch up with all of that stuff, and be paid for it! Even when I disagreed with the conclusions of the scholars I was reading, I enjoyed the process of engagement immensely.

As for the jihad part of the course, self-education was even more drastic. I have been teaching a course on the history of Islamic civilization for over a decade now, so I wasn't coming to the history of Jihad completely ignorant. Yet looking around for material, I had an even bigger surprise than I did in connection with the crusade scholarship. I found myself using almost exclusively books and articles that have been produced in the last 10 years. Thanks in particular to Carole Hillenbrand, David Cook, Patricia Crone, Christopher Tyerman, and Capt. John "Garick" Chamberlain, I was able to do an adequate and maybe more than adequate job of showing the differences and similarities between crusade and jihad and how the two different ideals clash d in the medieval Middle East and to some degree later. But 10 years ago almost none of the good stuff available to me had even been published. I am grateful to those scholars for stepping into the breach; and I have a nice feeling of being not so far behind the cutting edge of research, even if in this case I am entirely dependent upon secondary works in European languages. And my students have benefited -- at least I hope so.

Image: someone's take on the fall of Constantinople, 1453.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

More fighting over the Holy Sepulcher

A brawl between Greek and Armenian clergy leads to two arrests. From the New York Times, with thanks to In the Middle.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Fighting over the Holy Sepulcher

Just about everybody has heard of the Crusades, the greatest conflict over the site of Christ's burial and resurrection, known as the Holy Sepulcher. Not so many know that disputes over the site have continued right up until the present day. The Crimean War, not so long ago as early historians calculate things, was sparked by a spat over jurisdiction of the shrine between Russia, France, and the Ottoman Empire. Lots of people died in that one and nobody even remembers what it was about.

Back in crusading days, the bad guys in regards to this issue, if you asked any Christian, were the Muslims or, as they were charmingly called back then, infidels. The more recent flareups, including the one that ended in Sevastopol, have been entirely between Christians.

And they are at it again! I did not know until I heard this story, but there is an entire monastery on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. And it is in such bad repair that it may at any moment fall through the roof and destroy the entire church. And there is a big argument between the Coptic clergy and the Ethiopian clergy and the church about who rightfully controls the monastery, and until that is sorted out -- a dispute that goes back at least until 1970 -- nothing will be done.

The story in all its details, or as many as most people can stand, is here at the Times Online site.

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My favorite story about Richard Lionheart

It comes from Steven Runciman's A History of the Crusades Volume 3, pages 37-8. If it comes across as rather Monty Python-esque, so be it:

King Richard decided to travel by land from Marseille. He seems to have disliked sea voyages, perhaps because he suffered from sea-sickness.... he waited until he had heard that his fleet had arrived at Messina and then, it seems, sent most of his escort by ship to Messina to prepare for his arrival. He himself continued on horseback, with only one attendant. When he passed near the little Calabrian town of Mileto he tried to steal a hawk from a peasant's house and was very nearly done to death by the furious villagers. He was therefore in a bad temper when he reached the Straits of Messina a day or two later.

Says a lot, doesn't it?

Image: William of Normandy and Harold of Wessex in happier days.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Three interesting posts from my hiatus

I only skimmed over my blog feeds after returning from my vacation, but I am glad I did so, and didn't just delete wholesale. There was some good reading, a bit of which I am going to share with you.

To start with a post that is mainly of interest to academics, here's Michael Drout ruminating on the administrative demands made on professors. But of course it's not just profs who suffer through meetings:

When I was Chair of Ed Pol I used to joke that we needed "Meeting Dosimeters" similar to those used for people who work with radioactive materials. When your dosimeter has gone above the safety level, you simply can't do any more work with radioactivity that month. It should be the same thing with meetings and other Chair stuff: decide how much you are going to do per week, and stick to that. To quote my friend Bryon Grigsby, who is now a Provost: "Nobody is going to die based on what happens in the English department."
There might be a big market for those "meeting dosimeters."

On a more historical note, here's another brilliant and thoughful post by Jonathan Jarret on medieval agricultural economics and various ways we can understand the relations between practice and records. It's vegetable barter time!

Finally, one news item I was sorry to miss, from the Telegraph: Knights Templar heirs in legal battle with the Pope.

Here's the gist:

The Association of the Sovereign Order of the Temple of Christ, whose members claim to be descended from the legendary crusaders, have filed a lawsuit against Benedict XVI calling for him to recognise the seizure of assets worth 100 billion euros (£79 billion).

They claim that when the order was dissolved by his predecessor Pope Clement V in 1307, more than 9,000 properties as well as countless pastures, mills and other commercial ventures belonging to the knights were appropriated by the church.

But their motive is not to reclaim damages only to restore the "good name" of the Knights Templar.

"We are not trying to cause the economic collapse of the Roman Catholic Church, but to illustrate to the court the magnitude of the plot against our Order," said a statement issued by the self-proclaimed modern day knights.

The fate and alleged guilt of the Templars is a legitimate subject. One does wonder, however, how this Association can claim "descent" from the 14th century members of the historic Order. Simple answer: The same way everyone else does, more or less by assertion.

For more, see Wikipedia, which I would guess has tons of material on the dubious descendents of the Templars.

Images: Templars being burned for heresy and apostasy.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Two useful resources for HIST 3116, Crusade and Jihad

Although I hope all my students in this fall course are enjoying the perfect weather I've been out in today, there will come a time when this post will prove useful.  I'm noting two resources, one online, one in print and in the Nipissing University library.

The online resource is Crusades-Encyclopedia, a large and varied assemblage of useful texts and commentary.  It has been lovingly compiled by the energetic Andrew Holt.  This is the place to go for a lot of things:  a historical text our library does not have, what a famous scholar said that made the scholar famous (historiography!), or a short introduction to many, many basic terms, persons, and places.    

If you need quick help on some medieval subject not obviously to be found in Crusades-Encyclopedia, and the library is handy, go looking for The Dictionary of the Middle Ages at Library of Congress class D 114.  Despite the name, it is a 13 volume encyclopedia which will be quite good for initial orientation or basic fact checking on a great many subjects, including many aspects of the Crusades.

Happy exploring!

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Monday, July 14, 2008

A thought-provoking characterization of the First Crusade

From Christopher Tyerman's huge history of the Crusades, God's War (p. 89):

Part revivalism, part politics, part a search for release in personal renewal, both a manipulation of popular beliefs and prejudices common to all social groups and an attempt to channel these towards a narrowly laudable yet essentially familiar and explicable end, the summons to Jerusalem succeeded because it caught the imagination of a society not necessarily ready but psychologically, culturally and materially equipped to answer the call. In the level of official enthusiasm, in the rapidity of popular acceptance, in the extremes of response, in the widespread uncertainty, indifference and regional variation shadowing extravagant and well-publicized bellicosity, 1096 was the 1914 of the Middle Ages.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Crusade pageants in New Spain

Note this from Tyerman's God's War, pp. 672-3.

In faraway Central America, local allies in the conquistadors that Tlaxcala, a state city state east of Mexico, marked the Treaty of Aigues Mortes between Charles V and the French king Francis I in 1538 at the lavish pageant showing the anticipated conquest of Jerusalem by the King of Spain. On Corpus Christi Day 1539 in the presence of the consecrated host, the lavish display included two Christian armies laying siege to the holy city, 11 compromising Europeans, the other commanded by the Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza with the Tlaxcalans and other "New Spaniards" in their own war costumes, complete with "feathers, devices and shields." Seemingly a good time was had by all. A few weeks earlier, the Mexicans to the east had laid on a similar show depicting the Turkish siege of Rhodes. Through these traditional images of past future crusading, New Spain was being assimilated into the culture of the old.

Tyerman calls these "bizarre consequences" of the appropriation of crusading as an element in national identity and imperialism (Spanish). But how is this any more bizarre than other aspects of crusading?

It is pretty colorful, though.

Image: Cortez and Dona Marina negotiate with the Tlaxcalans.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Summer books for students

I have very limited expectations that students for my fall courses are checking in on a daily basis to see what I think they should be reading this summer. But on the off chance and remembering that is not just students who drop in here, I am going to mention a couple of books that are worth knowing about.

For those who are interested in chivalry perhaps the best book on the subject, one that has been credited with reviving scholarly interest in the subject is Maurice Keen's 1984 work, Chivalry. It is one of those books that make scholarship look really good: well-organized, well-written, and full of ideas.

So you say, if this book is so darned good, why is it not on the reading list for the chivalry seminar? I'm not sure how this will sound, but when a book is this good, basing a seminar on it might be counterproductive. I'm hoping to spend most of the time in class discussing primary sources in all their variety and contradictions, rather than admiring Keen's elegant formulations based on his extremely wide reading. I am keenly (!?) aware that my students don't have unlimited funds. Our course pack and other books will cost quite enough thank you, and I'm not going to have you buy this book just because I think it would be good for you.

On the other hand, this book will be good for you, maybe, there's a good chance, so if you have it available to you, or feel like buying it, don't let me hold you back.

I have another recommendation for students think they are not going to have enough material on the Crusades in the three books required for the course on Crusade and Jihad: it's the most recent survey of all the evidence about the Crusades to the Holy Land before 1300, God's War by Christopher Tyerman. The one review I saw criticized this book for not being a suitable replacement for a 50-year-old three-volume work by Steven Runciman, whose prose and analytical skills were astonishing. That reviewer predicted that the Runciman book would continue to be assigned to students despite the virtues of Tyreman's up-to-date review of the evidence.

Me, I don't think I would recommend either Runciman or Tyerman as the primary text for an undergraduate course. Both works are just too long (Tyerman's book has nearly 1100 pages) if we really expect students to be reading a variety of materials. Nonetheless, Tyerman's work, like Runciman's, is interesting, detailed, and full of ideas. I think the real weakness of Tyerman's book, if you're thinking about a general market, is that it seems to assume a fair amount of knowledge about the general course of the Crusades to the Holy Land. This would work better as a second or third book about the Crusades than it would as an introduction.

One nice thing about Tyerman's book is that it is very cheap for a hardback of its size. If you would like to just completely immerse yourself in the Crusades, look it up at a bookseller's site and be pleasantly surprised.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I have heard the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine on the Second Crusade, riding with her royal ladies in the guise of Amazons. Now, thanks to Allen and Amt's The Crusades: a reader, I finally see the original source of the story. It's a little vaguer than I expected, but still charming. A Byzantine annalist named Niketas Choniates says:

But while the Emperor governed the empire in this fashion, a cloud of enemies, a dreadful death-dealing pestilence, fell upon the Roman borders. I speak of the campaign of the Germans, joined by other kindred nations. Females were numbered among them riding horseback in the manner of men, not on the coverlets sidesaddle but unashamedly astride, and bearing lances and weapons as men do; dressed in masculine garb they conveyed a wholly martial appearance, more mannish than the Amazons. One stood out from the rest as another Penthesilea and from the embroidered gold which ran around the hem and fringes of her garment was called Goldfoot.
Image: a fantasy portrait of Eleanor, borrowed from here.

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Crusade and Jihad: the preliminaries

Next fall I will be teaching HIST 3116, listed in Nipissing University's calendar as a "topics" course, as a course on crusade and jihad in the medieval Middle East. I bet not one of the 30-some students who are already signed up for this course is thinking about it now, but I have to or there is no course -- I'd never done it before.

I have made a little progress, in that I have finally chosen, after much thought, what books we are going to use. They are now listed at my academic homepage, along with the required books for my other two courses.

I am also searching the web for pictorial resources. I've become quite a fan of visual aids, something than the old days was rather scorned by most humanities teachers, I think. (My feeling is that since pictures were hard to get and inconvenient to organize and project, those of us who were not archaeologists pretended it didn't matter.)

Anyway, in the course of my search, Skip Knox, who has long taught a course on the Crusades, pointed me to his virtual pilgrimage site. If you are a student or just curious about the Crusades, you might take a look.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

More on Saladin and the Arab view of the Crusades

About a year and a half ago, I reproduced an interesting short discussion by Andrew Larsen of Saladin's modern reputation as a hero of anti-crusade resistance. What Andrew said, and he accurately reproduced the scholarly consensus, is that Saladin became an Islamic hero only in recent times. Insofar as there was a popular hero of the Crusades in the Middle East before the 19th or 20th century, it was Baibars, a Mamluk Sultan.

That post has become one of the most popular attractions on this blog, in large part because of the nifty picture I pasted into it. How many read the post, I don't know. At least one person did -- he/she was incensed by the idea that Saladin could ever have been forgotten by the Arabs. Even if he was a Kurd.

Just recently a friend of mine sent me his masters thesis for his degree in Middle Eastern studies. John Chamberlain, a skilled Arab linguist, wrote on the evolution of Arab historiography of the Crusades, with emphasis on printed books written since 1800 (or rather, since about 1850). (In other words, he didn't investigate newspapers or journal articles.) Even with my recent reading on the Islamic views of the Crusades, past and present, I was amazed at how recent most of the Arabic writing on the Crusades has been. The real upswing began in 1947, when Palestine was first slated for partition.

If you want to look for yourself, Chamberlain's conclusions are available in two different forms on the Web. A short version appears in the journal Strategic Insights here.
If you want the whole thing, that's here.

Update: Links now work.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Contesting the Crusades, by Norman Housley

Even Web advertising has its place.

I first became aware of this book because it showed up on a regular basis on a friend's blog. It became one of the books I decided to consult early in my preparations for my upcoming Crusade and Jihad course. And I'm glad I did.

Contesting the Crusades is not an attempt at a zippy narrative of the events, but for a professional historian it has zip anyway. If you want to know what questions and aspects of the Crusades people have been debating for the last generation or so, this is a very good place to find out. Even though it is a book that mainly discusses other people's books and articles, it is very well-written. It passed the most relevant test when I found reason to read it out loud. My tongue felt good. Quite a contrast to another recent book which is a zippy narrative but is filled with stylistic errors like dangling participles and uncertain referents so that you have to read a paragraph twice to find out which Baldwin the author is talking about. Given the number of Baldwins that is no trivial matter.

Since I will have no students to talk to or lectures to give until September, you can expect that the number of " book" posts will increase. It's not so much that I will be reading more, but that I will have more time and motive to comment.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Holy Lance Church in Armenia

Many people know that the discovery of the Holy Lance in Antioch saved the First Crusade. Today English Russia posted several pictures of an alternate site for the Holy Lance, at a church in Armenia. I've also heard the Lance was at Constantinople (which led some churchmen at Antioch during the crusade to doubt the reality of the just-discovered one).

This rather odd art looks strangely familiar to me. What am I thinking of? Readers?

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Frankish women warriors in Muslim Middle Eastern sources

People always want to know if there were any women warriors or knights in the Middle Ages. The answer is that there is some scattered evidence of uncertain reliability.

In Hillenbrand's The Crusades: Islamic perspectives, there is translated a bit more evidence of this sort. I'm just going to quote the sources she assembles, without giving full citations.

Pages 348-9, in a section called Frankish Women Warriors:

Imad al-Din:

Amongst the Franks are women knights (fawaris). They have coats of mail and helmets. They are in men's garb and they are prominent in the thick of the fray. They act in the manner of those endowed with intellect [i.e. men] although they are ladies.

... On the day of the battle some of them come forth in the same way as the (male) knights. Despite their softness there is hardness (qaswa) in them. They have no clothing (kiswa) other than coats of mail. They have not been recognised [as women] until they have been stripped and laid bare. A number of them have been enslaved and sold.
Ibn al-Athir on Saladin's siege of Burzay, 1188:

[There was] a woman shooting from the citadel by means of the mangonel and it was she who put the Muslims' mangonel out of action.
Ibn Shaddad recording the testimony of an old man who was at Acre in 1191:

Inside their walls was a woman wearing a green coat (milwata). She kept on shooting at us with a wooden bow, so much so that she wounded a group of us. We overpowered her and killed her and took her bow, carrying it to the sultan, who was very amazed about that.

Imad al-Din drawing a moral on the battlefield of Acre, 1190:

We saw a woman slain because of her being a warrior.
Page 464:
"...according to Usama, there were [Muslim] women fighting ...during the siege b y the Isma'ilis of his home citadel of Shayzar, but as they were wearing full armour the sex of these warriors was not known until after the fighting."

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The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives, by Carole Hillenbrand

I finally got around to reading this 1999 book, a thorough, and perhaps uniquely so, survey of what Islamic sources tell us about the Crusade to the Holy Land in the 12th and 13th centuries. Its chief value is that it not only summarizes sources unavailable to people who cannot read Arabic or don't have access to rare books and manuscripts, but carefully evaluates those sources for reliability and usefulness.

A second valuable characteristic is that it is profusely illustrated with visual material derived from Syria, Palestine, Anatolia, Egypt and to some extent farther eastern countries, so as to give the reader a notion of what the era and area looked like to Muslim eyes. Brilliant, even though I am sure that doing so drove up the price of this book substantially.

Reading this book confirmed my judgment (not one necessarily one Hillenbrand would agree with) that the Muslim memory of the Crusades is something that has emerged in the last two centuries. I'm not saying that it is a "false" memory (is my memory of the First Crusade, derived from European books of the 20th century, "false?"), but simply as Hillenbrand documents, not a continuous one. Back in the period of western European occupation, the importance of that occupation was not given the same evaluation by all living Muslims. Some, especially those who had been personally affected, were zealous to reclaim Jerusalem. However, the behavior of most local and regional Muslim leaders most of the time indicates that Realpolitik was their main motivation. They fought who constituted a threat or a source of profit and where there was danger or opportunity. Obviously some rulers were allied with preachers of jihad, but it wasn't an overwhelming motivation.

Hillenbrand shows that Muslim observers and scholars began to visualize the Crusades as a unified phenomenon, and a really bad period in the history of Islam, during the 19th century, when intervention in the Middle East became a serious problem. The Arabic name for Crusades was adopted from European sources, and Saladin's reputation got a big boost from his place in Christian historiography (as opposed to the reputations of Zengi and Baybars, perhaps more famous in the Islamic tradition).

This makes me feel a bit more confident in saying that when modern Muslims get upset about the occupation of the Holy Land way back when, they are probably more upset about more recent occupations of any number of Middle Eastern countries now, or at least since Napoleon landed in Egypt.

I wonder what unhappy Muslims say about the Mongol destruction of Baghdad? Now there was a huge catastrophe.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Muhlberger's courses, 2008-9

For those who missed my first post, the information is here. HIST 3116, which appears on Web Advisor as Topics in European or World History, is going to be a Fall Term offering and the topic will be Crusade and Jihad. Probable focus: Palestine and the Middle East, 1000-1300.

Those interested in the fourth-year chivalry seminar can consult the chivalry seminar posts from last year; see the tags at the end of the post.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Military Orders: From the Twelfth to the Early Fourteenth Centuries, by Alan Forey

This book (without an image on Amazon) is a straightforward brief comparative study of the early Crusading orders, Templars, Hospitilars, Teutonic Knights, and a number of others.

On pages 47-8, I was quite taken by references to peoples and regions of northern Europe I'd never heard of:

Ungannia, Wierland, Warbolians, Warmia, Nattangia, and Bartia.

I found online references to all but the Warbolians.

I offer this list to you for your own amusement.

Image: Fearsome Templars.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Other medieval blogs

There are a number of medievalists who write weblogs. Some of those blogs are devoted to tales of survival in the academic life; others are more focused on medieval subject matter; a few are quite substantial, and include some of the fruits of the author's scholarly efforts. Let me draw your attention to a couple of the latter, and then two more resources worth knowing.

Matthew Gabriele teaches at Virginia Tech and writes a blog called Modern Medieval. I'll bet he's a good teacher by my own personal standards, because he clearly does not believe that the Middle Ages are dead and gone, or impossibly remote. Two posts illustrate this, the first being Tony, meet Chuck, wherein he draws an interesting and I think non-trivial parallel between Tony Soprano and Charlemagne: people now aren't sure that Tony Soprano is dead, and people then weren't sure Charlemagne was. You may say that Tony Soprano is a fictional character, while Charlemagne was a real person, but then I'd ask you to reread The Song of Roland and explain your position in light of that.

A second post is more somber: Gabriele teaches at that same Virginia Tech where the shootings took place, and this eventually inspired him to write a short essay called The New Relevance of the Middle Ages at Virginia Tech. He made two major points in it: first, the motivations of the killer were not all that different than the motivations from those that inspired the First Crusade; second, in looking for hope Gabriele says:

If nothing else, the Middle Ages show us how the intellectual path we’re on isn’t the only one available. In 1095, 100,000 people thought that violence could bring peace. In 2007, Seung Cho believed the same and the world cried out in horror. Cho took one path from 1095 and the vast majority took the other. In and of itself, and in the middle of all this sadness, this is a reason for hope.

Here I have to say that it's easier to say what "the world" says or thinks than to prove it. We don't know what the majority thought or did in 1095. Certainly we know what a dynamic and influential minority did and were able to do. But the rest? Did they agree or were they just ignored, or steamrollered? And it's pretty sure that no Yakutians or Incans were involved at all.
Now, of course, we hear lots of cries of horror, but also lots of influential calls for more bombings and more secret prisons.

Nonetheless I look forward to more reading at Modern Medieval.

Modern Medieval has already made me aware through its blogroll of A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe. This blog, which seems to be anonymous, has lots of scholarly comment on things I find interesting, including an essay on whether material motivations influenced the Crusaders. The 10th century blogger rightly says that recent scholars have downplayed the idea that members of the First Crusade enlisted to get rich quick, for the reason that it was appallingly dangerous and expensive to go. A good point, but our blogger wonders if the First Crusaders knew it was such a bad bet (a point also made by others).
Having studied the motives behind warriors taking part in dangerous "deeds of arms" I ask, didn't they use a different calculus of risk back then. There were plenty of cautious and conservative people in 1095, but weren't active warriors expected to be risk takers beyond what was normal? They sure were expected to be stronger and braver.

I've mentioned this blog before, but I'll mention it here again for new readers: is a compilation of a lot of valuable material, especially the section called News for Medievalists. And I should mention, too, the section of devoted to the Middle Ages. It is edited by Melissa Snell, who has a fine, light touch and shows a lot of imagination in her compiling of good material from the Web.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Crusading trivia III: Slaughtered rulers

I was under the general impression that rulers, unless they were killed in battle were generally exempt from being murdered by their fellow rulers. However, reading Jonathan Riley-Smith's excellent survey The Crusades has taught me that there was grave danger in being on the wrong side of a 13th century crusade. Here's a few cases where kings and emperors were executed by their rivals:

In 1204, Alexius IV, who had been made Emperor at Constantinople by an army of crusaders from Western Europe, was deposed by Alexius Dukas (Alexius V), imprisoned and strangled. Alexius IV's father, Isaac II died about the same time, and he too may have been killed. Alexius V didn't last very long thereafter. He was unable to defend Constantinople from the westerners, and fled when they took the city. Alexius was captured and blinded by another imperial claimant, Alexius III. This was a traditional Byzantine way to eliminate someone from politics without actually killing him or shedding blood. But this was not good enough for the westerners, who blamed him for killing their stooge A. the IV. When they got hold of him they made him "jump to his death from the top of the column in the forum of Theodosius."

Alexius V was succeeded as Eastern Emperor by the Count of Flanders, Baldwin, the first "Latin emperor" of Byzantium. He didn't last very long, either. He was captured by the Bulgarian ruler Ioannitsa. Ioannitsa claimed Baldwin died in prison, but other stories say Baldwin was murdered.

In the west, decades later, you see another imperial line being ruthlessly destroyed. Frederick II von Hohenstaufen, "the Wonder of the World," had been emperor in the West and King of Sicily before his death in 1250. For much of his life he was at war with the popes, who proclaimed various crusades against him. Frederick left behind a legitimate line (Conrad IV and his son Conradin) and an illegitimate one. The popes were determined to stamp out the Hohenstaufen and launched further crusades. When the final anti-Hohenstaufen expedition succeeded, Conradin, age 16, was executed.

The image above is a depiction of Conradin in happy days, from the famous Manesse Codex (look it up!).

What may unite these incidents is the fact that all the wars were for high stakes: ultimately, the imperial crown, theoretically the highest honor in the world unless you were a zealous papal partisan. Those pursuing such ambitions, or trying to block others from attaining them, had to be ruthless to their opponents. Especially if they posed such a danger that they had already been labelled as enemies of all good Christians.

One is remined of another early 13th century ruler-murder, one without any obvious religious element: the mysterious death of Arthur of Brittany after he had been taken captive by his rival for the Plantagenet heritage, John Lackland (John the only king of England of that name). High stakes there, too, and huge ambition.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Crusade and jihad

From Riley-Smith, The Crusades, p. 152:

Innocent IV [1243-54] was prepared to argue that the pope had a de jure, but not de facto, authority over infidels, with the power to command them to allow missionaries to preach in their lands and a right in the last resort to punish them for infringements of natural law, but he stressed that Christians could not make war upon them for being infidels; nor could they fight wars of conversion. Hostiensis [a church or canon law expert of the same time], on the other hand, supposed that the pope could intervene directly in affairs of infidels and that their refusal to recognize his dominion was in itself justification for a Christian assault upon them. He even suggested that any war fought by Christians against unbelievers was just, by reason of the faith of the Christian side alone. This went too far and Christian opinion since has tended to follow Innocent rather than Hostiensis.

Students in History of Islamic Civilization might want to compare these opinions with that of the Egyptian Islamicist Qutb.

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Crusading trivia II: Markward of Anweiler

I've recently noted a pattern in visitors to this blog. An awful lot of people come here to copy or see images. What's odd about this is that all my images come from other sites, where they are still available. I guess Google, which owns Blogger, gives preference to Blogger sites when answering search requests.

Anyway, some images are very popular: Machiavelli on a book cover, the US Constitution, pictures of howling wolves. But the one most sought for recently has been my picture -- somebody's picture -- of Saladin.

Today, when reading Riley-Smith on the Crusades, I ran across the fact that Pope Innocent III, a champion promoter of holy wars, took against a German named Markward of Anweiler who was creating obstacles to the pope's policies in Italy. Innocent eventually declared a crusade against Markward, calling him "another Saladin" and "an infidel worse than the infidels." So I thought I should post a picture of Markward here and see if large numbers of his fans would show up and copy it for their own uses.

I was joking with myself; I knew there would be no such picture available.

But I was wrong! He's at the top of this post, thanks to Wikipedia. Markward fans, he's all yours. If you stop by, leave a comment.

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Crusading trivia I: Livonia as Our Lady's dowry

I am brushing up my knowledge of the Crusades, in part by reading Jonathon Riley-Smith's The Crusades: A Short History (1987). It's quite a fine summary, with enough detail and analysis to satisfy a pro like me. Those who have never read much on the Crusades might like the briefer book by Thomas F. Madden, The New Concise History of the Crusades.

Riley-Smith has lots of interesting little things that you might not find even in a bigger book. One tantalizing fact is that the 13th century German crusaders who fought to conquer and convert Livonia (roughly, today's Latvia) were able to justify their "permanent crusade" in that area by claiming it as Our Lady's dowry, just as Palestine was Christ's patrimony.

If anyone can tell me how these people connected the Virgin Mary with Livonia, I'd love to hear it. My nearest Latvian relative was only vaguely aware of the Marian claim through folksong references to "Mary's land and Mary's people." Using a few Latvian words I was able to find not very much on the Web, just an untranslated political platform for a party called "Mary's Land;" the site didn't have any Marian imagery or specifically religious references.

I'd also love to have a picture of Our Lady of Riga. Best I can do at the moment is the image above of Rigas Dom, the cathedral in Riga.

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