Malcolm Charles Barber

title.none: Friedman, Encounter between Enemies (Malcolm Charles Barber)

identifier.other: baj9928.0409.009 04.09.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Malcolm Charles Barber, University of Reading,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Friedman, Yvonne. Encounter between Enemies: Captivity and Ransom in the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. Series: Cultures, Beliefs and Traditions: Medieval and Early Modern Peoples, vol. 10. Leiden: Brill, 2002. Pp. xvi, 295. $149.00 90-04-11706-7. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.09.09

Friedman, Yvonne. Encounter between Enemies: Captivity and Ransom in the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. Series: Cultures, Beliefs and Traditions: Medieval and Early Modern Peoples, vol. 10. Leiden: Brill, 2002. Pp. xvi, 295. $149.00 90-04-11706-7. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Malcolm Charles Barber
University of Reading

The bulk of the literature on the conduct of medieval warfare concentrates upon developments in western Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, most famously set down in Honore Bouvet's commentary, The Tree of Battles (1387). However, as David Bachrach has shown in his recent work, Religion and the Conduct of War (2003), Christians had been obliged to confront such issues ever since their rise to political prominence in the fourth century. Encouraged by military commanders who appreciated the value to morale of the conviction that their cause had divine support, the Church had insisted that soldiers accept the principle that penance needed to be done for their participation in warfare, a stance which at least reiterated that certain standards of conduct were required of a Christian at all times, even when fighting for what was regarded as a just cause. Nevertheless, the identification of the Christian hierarchy with the Roman Empire inevitably meant that, in practice, battles with non-Christians were unlikely to be subject to any more restraint than the Romans had displayed when dealing with their barbarian opponents. The savagery of Charlemagne's wars against the Saxons is well known, as is the Saxons' own behavior in their conquest of the Slavs. With the calling of the First Crusade, even the idea of post-battle penance disappeared, for an essential element was the belief that attacks on the Muslims were approved by God and that the participants' sins would be remitted because of this meritorious act.

This is the context for Yvonne Friedman's study of captivity and ransom in the Holy Land in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This issue was central to the lives of the warriors in this frontier society but, in a wider sense, it also encapsulated the problems which the acceptance of the need for warfare in certain defined circumstances had brought upon the early Christian Church. Standards of conduct were particularly pertinent to prisoners, since they were totally at the mercy of their captors. Nevertheless, the matter does not seem to have exercised the minds of the first crusaders. Apparently, captivity was not thought to be a likely outcome for those who fought for God, while opponents, who were both pagan and barbaric, were to be slaughtered, not taken alive. In any case, it was impractical for an army on the move in hostile territory to give much consideration to prisoners. However, the problem became less easy to ignore once Jerusalem had been captured, for the Latins were then faced with the prospect of establishing a permanent presence in the East. All out destructive warfare was no longer in the Latin interest: at the siege of Sidon in 1108, according to Albert of Aachen, Arnulf, the royal chancellor, advised Baldwin I against bombarding a tower since, once the town was in their hands, it would have cost 2,000 besants to rebuild it. Friedman shows that there was a similar change of attitude towards human resources as well, a change encouraged by the fact that the societies into which the Latins had intruded already had developed systems of coping with the problem of prisoners. King Baldwin was, not surprisingly, unwilling to barter away hard-won territory, but he did see the monetary advantages to be gained from ransoms, which could then be used to pay troops. While this was of no help to Christians held by the Muslims, since Baldwin and his contemporaries preferred ransom money to prisoner exchange, it does show the beginnings of that adaptation to local circumstances which came to characterize so much of life in the Crusader States.

By the 1130s the Latins were participating in captive exchanges as well as regularly paying ransoms, a trend which culminated in the post-Hattin situation of 1187, when the large number of prisoners of both high and low status could not be ignored. Thus the contrast between the massacre of the population of Jerusalem in 1099 and the ransoming of much of its population in 1187 tells us more about how profoundly circumstances had changed in the course of the twelfth century than about any alleged moral difference between crusader savagery and Muslim chivalry. It is noticeable that the first redemptionist order, the Trinitarians, was founded in 1198, while in the thirteenth century, there are more instances of the Hospitallers and Templars taking a role in the recovery of prisoners than they had previously done. What followed was what Friedman calls "the institutionalization of ransom," which ultimately resulted in the creation of the system described by Honore Bouvet, although it is by no means clear whether developments in the East contributed to this. This change would not have been possible without a parallel cultural shift in the Christian world. In William of Tyre's view, a captive was a shameful failure, but a generation later Innocent III presented him as a person who was suffering for Christ, a view which fitted well with "the new spirituality" of the thirteenth century, while the contemporary literary image was more likely to be that of a steadfast, even romantic, hero.

Yvonne Friedman makes a convincing case for these changes. This is especially difficult because the sources are relatively thin. In the early days of the crusader settlement there was little incentive for contemporaries to write about the subject, while there is not much charter evidence as it does not seem to have been a priority for either the kings or the military orders. Understandably, this does lead to a certain mount of repetition, in that Friedman needs to press the same cases into service in different contexts. One major problem which arises from this lack of evidence is why the Trinitarians seem to have left very little trace in the East in the thirteenth century, where their services were sorely needed, yet are well documented in Iberia, where Christian military success made the situation less acute. It does seem that the scanty sources in the East really do indicate that the Trinitarians had only a minor role; in 1263, Urban IV said as much when he accused them of making little effort to justify their privileges and donations. It has been argued that in Iberia there was already a tradition of ransoming prisoners which stemmed from the initiatives taken by municipal governments to redeem those who had fought for their cause. This may well be true, but it does not really explain the contrast between the Crusader States and Iberia; in fact, the opposite could be argued, in that the existing system in Spain made specialist orders of this kind superfluous. More likely, the explanation lies in the lack of resources available in the East, especially in the second half of the thirteenth century, making it impossible to provide the redemptionist orders with a firm economic base.

Increasing recognition of the role of ransom and therefore of the value of taking prisoners does not of course guarantee decent standards of treatment. The fate of the captive might not always be death, but Friedman shows that torture, slave labour, forcible conversion and the sexual abuse of women were routine, and were generally only mitigated for practical rather than religious, charitable or chivalric reasons. The fact that torture was usually functional rather than sadistic, in that it was practiced by both sides either as a means of obtaining information or as a powerful propaganda vehicle following a triumphant public display after victory, was little compensation for the victims. Nor did romantic stories of Muslim heroes whose deeds were presented as the consequence of the genetic advantages they had received from their captive Christian mothers provide much practical help to female captives who were rejected by Christian society as tainted when they returned to their own side.

Despite the inadequacies of the evidence, the great merit of this book is that it raises so many issues, ranging from the psychological effects of prolonged imprisonment to the provisions made to reintegrate former prisoners into society. In many ways the Christian response can be seen as quite inadequate; indeed, there seems to have been an unwillingness to face up to the issue. Yet there is no doubt of its importance, for captivity was a fate most crusaders and pilgrims dreaded, perhaps more than a death which they expected would take them to the gateway of salvation.