contributor.author: Marc Carrier

title.none: Sweetenham, trans., Robert the Monk's History (Marc Carrier)

identifier.other: baj9928.0609.021 06.09.21

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Marc Carrier, McGill University, martcarrier@yahoo.ca

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Sweetenham, Carol, trans. Robert the Monk's History of the First Crusade: Historia Iherosolimitana. Crusade Texts in Translation, vol. 11. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005. Pp. x, 242. $74.95 (hb) 0-7546-0471-3. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.09.21

Sweetenham, Carol, trans. Robert the Monk's History of the First Crusade: Historia Iherosolimitana. Crusade Texts in Translation, vol. 11. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005. Pp. x, 242. $74.95 (hb) 0-7546-0471-3. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Marc Carrier
McGill University
martcarrier@yahoo.ca

Carol Sweetenham's translation and analysis of Robert the Monk's Historia Iherosolimitana proves to be a valuable --if not indispensable--contribution to the study of the Crusades and the early Latin East. As the eleventh addition to the now renowned series "Crusade Texts in Translation," Sweetenham's work brings renewed interest for a often neglected document in a corpus of generally inaccessible yet crucial sources in early crusade historiography, such as Ralph of Caen's Gesta Tancredi and Walter the Chancellor's Bella Antiochena . Until recently, Robert the Monk's history of the First Crusade was generally belittled as a secondary and sometimes negligible source, since it was seen as a mere copy or adaptation of the eyewitness account of the anonymous Gesta Francorum . As such, the Historia Iherosolimitana was the subject of no modern edition, apart from a dated version in the Recueil des historiens des croisades , and no complete translation, with the exception of a French adaptation by F. Guizot in the early nineteenth century. Recent studies[1] have however put into question the Gesta Francorum 's monopoly in crusade historiography, so much so that Robert the Monk's history is beginning to gain wider recognition as an interesting alternative to understanding the First Crusade, with adaptations and interpretations that are unique to Capetian influences in the early crusade movement. Throughout her analysis, Sweetenham furthermore underlines the Historia Iherosolimitana 's wide popularity and distribution throughout the twelfth century, thus acknowledging its importance as one of the most popular versions of the First Crusade for its contemporaries. As a result, Sweetenham's work must be recognized for its much anticipated rehabilitation of one of the crusade's most notable chroniclers, but also as a valuable tool for scholars and students alike, who now have easier access to an otherwise neglected document.

Although Sweetenham's book is mainly devoted to the translation of the Historia Iherosolimitana , a significant introduction is also dedicated to a thorough analysis of the chronicle and its author, as well as the context in which the history was produced. The author also concludes her study with an appendix containing a translation of two relevant contemporary letters concerning the First Crusade, which are followed by a well endowed bibliography. In the introduction, Sweetenham divides her analysis of Robert the Monk's history into five chapters that examine different aspects of the chronicle's production, as well as its influence and relationship with other sources. Most interesting is the distinction that is established between the Historia Iherosolimitana and its parent Gesta Francorum , which contributes to the ongoing debate about the anonymous chronicle's predominance in crusade historiography. In her analysis, Sweetenham insists on the Historia 's originality, presenting Robert the Monk not as a mere plagiarizer, but as a resourceful author who used the Gesta with considerable subtlety in order to present his own version of the Crusade. Sweetenham also lists and comments the major additions and omissions that differentiate the Historia from the Gesta , a valuable tool for scholars looking for a comprehensive overview of the often complicated relationships between the numerous chronicles of the First Crusade. Equally important is the author's demonstration that the Historia was probably commissioned in the context of Bohemond of Tarento's planned crusade against Byzantium in 1107 and that it reflects Capetian interests during this same period. However, although the chronicle's propagandistic tendencies for a new crusade are clear, we cannot firmly establish, despite Sweetenham's implicit suggestion, that Bohemond directly commissioned the Historia ; recent studies on the subject, particularly those by E. Albu and M. Carrier, have indeed raised doubts concerning this theory.[2] Nevertheless, Sweetenham convincingly establishes the circumstances under which Robert's history was written in the early twelfth century, as well as its importance and popularity during the following decades (the document, after all, has survived in over one hundred manuscripts).

Sweetenham's translation of Robert the Monk's work itself is at a glance trustworthy and well polished, although it lacks from being based on the dated edition in the RHC . Such a limitation can however be justified by the nonexistence of a modern critical edition of the Historia Iherosolimitana , which still remains to be published. The author also clearly points out that preparing a new edition was not her aim in undertaking the translation and she calls on future scholars to fulfill this most important task. In following the RHC , Sweetenham has opted to retain its layout and divisions, which permits easier access to the Latin text for those inclined to compare or verify the original wording. Robert the Monk's chronicle is thus divided into nine books, covering the call for the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095 to the battle of Ascalon in August 1099. Each book is in turn divided into numerous chapters, which are helpful landmarks for the reader throughout a rather long text. The translation is regularly augmented by useful notes, in order to clarify discrepancies in the text or to explain details that may be ambiguous to the reader. The tone and style adopted for the translation are both simple and comprehensive; in fact, Robert the Monk himself adapted the Gesta Francorum to make the history of the crusade more pleasing and available to a wider public, and this guiding principle is clearly visible in Sweetenham's adaptation of the chronicle. As the author states, "this translation aims to steer a middle course between fidelity and elegance" (69), a goal which she has certainly achieved by a stylish rendering of the text without betraying its original meaning. Whenever necessary, Sweetenham compared her translation against F. Guizot's older adaptation, in order to provide a more nuanced rendering of ambiguous passages. This was certainly a useful exercise, for Guizot, albeit with a few errors, also rendered his translations in a unique and elegant style. As is sometimes common even in recent translations, no visible anachronisms stand out in Sweetenham's adaptation, thus placing her work among the most complete and well adapted translations of crusade chronicles in recent years.

All in all, there is little to criticize about Carol Sweetenham's translation and analysis of Robert the Monk's Historia Iherosolimitana : her research is clearly meticulous and, despite being aimed at a scholarly readership, her text is easily accessible and pleasant to read. While one could suggest that the author's analysis would have benefited from a more thorough examination of the chronicle's purpose and commissioning, one must also admit that such an undertaking would have considerably lengthened the introduction. Sweetenham's concise and direct style certainly conveys a comprehensive and practical overview of Robert the Monk's history, and is thus a valuable tool for crusade scholars and a very welcome addition to crusade historiography.

NOTES [1] See for instance J. France, Victory in the East: A Military History of the First Crusade , (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) 378-379.

[2] E. Albu, The Normans and Their Histories: Propaganda, Myth and Subversion , (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2001) 145-179; M. Carrier, L'image des Byzantins et les systèmes de représentation selon les chroniqueurs occidentaux des croisades , (Doctoral thesis, Université de Paris I, 2006) 240-254.