The Medieval Review 11.06.45

G.A. Loud, trans. The Crusade of Frederick Barbarossa, The History of the Expedition of the Emperor Frederick and Related Texts. Crusade Texts in Translation, vol. 19. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2010. Pp. 225. $114.95. 9780754665755. . .

Reviewed by:

David A. Warner
Rhode Island School of Design

The value of this latest contribution to the impressive series, Crusade Texts in Translation, is established by the first few sentences of the volume's preface: "From the time of Sir Walter Scott onwards, discussion of the Third Crusade of 1189-92 has tended to focus on Richard the Lionheart and the Anglo-Norman Crusade...In comparison, the German expedition led by Emperor Frederick I, which in contrast to those of the kings of France and England took the 'traditional' overland route through the Balkans and Asia Minor, has been neglected, despite its intrinsic interest" (vii). The seven texts translated in this volume by Graham Loud should help to address this situation. These texts include three major works: the Historia de expeditione Friderici Imperatoris, compiled ca. 1200; the Historia peregrinorum, also compiled ca. 1200; and selections from the chronicle of Magnus of Reichersberg, compiled at some point prior to 1195. Laud has also included translations of several other texts which, though still useful, appear less directly relevant to Barbarossa's crusade or are less extensive than the major works.

The history of a medieval text is rarely as straightforward as it may appear in a modern edition or translation. The texts translated in this volume are no exception. The interrelationship between the three main texts is complex and is addressed in great detail in the introduction. The longest text, the Historia de Expeditione is virtually contemporary with the events described, but the complete text only survives in two manuscripts, both dating from the eighteenth century. The authorship of the work is also problematical. Loud argues that it is most probably a composite text and the work of more than one author. Most of the Historia appears to represent an eyewitness account of the crusade of 1189-90, but an appendix includes accounts of later events such as the attempt by Barbarossa's successor, Henry VI, to conquer the kingdom of Sicily and his attempt to transform the German kingdom into a hereditary monarchy. Some of these events, as Loud suggests, might be viewed as ramifications of Frederick's crusade, others appear to be of more general significance.

A further level of complexity is added to Historia de Expeditione by its heavy reliance on a diary written by a Bavarian cleric. The cleric actually participated in the Crusade, but the diary only survives as excerpts in the chronicle of Magnus of Reichersberg. Magnus indicates that a copy of the diary had been sent to him from the Holy Land, but, as Loud notes, it is by no means clear that its text was incorporated into the chronicle without alteration. The third major crusade text included in this volume, the Historia Peregrinorum, survives in a single thirteenth-century manuscript from the monastery of Salem. Its narrative, divided into three sections, describes Saladin's conquest of Palestine, preparations for the Crusade, and Barbarossa's death. Although based extensively on the Historia de expeditione, the Historia Peregrinorum occasionally differs from or makes additions to its narrative. Loud has translated only those parts of the text that provide an independent testimony.

As already noted, the remainder of the volume incorporates shorter texts, of differing types, that offer independent testimony regarding the crusade or other, related events. The Epistola de morte Friderici Imperatoris, apparently written immediately after Barbarossa's death, provides a brief account of the crusade's passage through Asia Minor. Excerpts from the Chronicle of Otto of St Blasien, part of a more general chronicle compiled c.1209-10, offer a retrospective view of Barbarossa's crusade, and accounts of the capture of Richard I and the abortive, "German" crusade of 1197. A third text does not deal specifically with Barbarossa's, but rather with a seaborne expedition that set off from Germany, in 1189, and ended up campaigning in Portugal. The capture of the Portuguese town of Silves by German crusaders, among others, provides the focal point of the text. Finally, Loud provides a translation of the imperial land peace of 1188, an example of one of the measures implemented by Barbarossa to secure domestic tranquility during his absence.

In general, the German crusade has been viewed as something of a fiasco, the best laid plans and any prospect for success having been crushed by Barbarossa's death by drowning in the river Saleph. The texts translated in this volume provide a basis for contesting this interpretation. From Loud's perspective they reveal that Barbarossa's crusade was far from an unqualified failure and could count at least one significant victory in the capture of the Turkish city of Iconium. Contrary to the traditional interpretation, the German crusade did not collapse at Barbarossa's death or as a result of incompetent leadership by his son and successor, Frederick of Swabia. Rather the army was done in by an epidemic that broke out prior to its arrival at Antioch. Although Loud does not specifically mention this, readers familiar with German historiography will also recognize the apparent "fiasco" of Barbarossa's crusade as one of a long list of failures and disasters which, until recently, supported a dominant narrative focused on Germany's aborted progress toward nationhood. Here again, one might argue, the texts provided in this volume provide the basis for an alternative interpretation.

Overall, this volume represents a useful addition to the growing body of medieval texts in translation and especially of crusade texts. Although the format of a review does not permit a detailed analysis of each text, readers will find much of interest here. As Loud notes, valuable evidence is provided for the more material aspects of the crusade, especially finance and logistics. Lists of the principal participants in the crusade allow for a prosopographical approach in which the army's composition and structure can be analyzed. An unusually detailed chronology allows readers to assess the army's rate of progress; it seems to have averaged around twenty kilometers per day. Frequent reference is made to the course of Frederick's diplomacy with the King of Hungary, the Turkish sultan of Iconium, and above all the Byzantine emperor. Readers will also encounter an interesting, alternative interpretation of the capture and ransoming of King Richard I; he emerges from these texts as an arrogant thug who, essentially, got what he deserved. Finally, one should note that the volume includes an introduction that places the crusade in historical context, especially with regard to the politics of the German realm. Readers unfamiliar with major events and trends in the history of twelfth-century Germany--or who simply need a little help in recalling them--will find this introduction extremely useful.