03.12.21, O'Callaghan, Reconquest and Crusade

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Miriam Shadis

The Medieval Review baj9928.0312.021


O'Callaghan, Joseph F.. Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain. Series: The Middle Ages Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. Pp. xviii, 322. ISBN: 0-8122-3696-3.

Reviewed by:
Miriam Shadis
Ohio University

This is a welcome book. It explains the development of crusading in almost all of its aspects in medieval Iberia, as well as situates the Iberian crusades within the context of those to the Holy Land. Indeed, Joseph O'Callaghan demonstrates that the crusades in Iberia and to the Middle East evolved in tandem, and that understanding one movement is requisite for understanding the other. Furthermore, O'Callaghan posits, the Iberian crusades were generally successful, whereas the Oriental crusades were not. This was largely because they took place on home territory, not "implanting an alien power and culture in a regime far distant." (209)

One of O'Callaghan's central concerns is the way in which papal indulgences constituted a crusade. Thus, he traces the development of Christian military offensives from their manifestation as a form of reconquest to that of crusade. Initially, Christian kings confronted Islamic rulers with the goal of regaining territory which the Muslims were seen to wrongfully possess. This notion of reconquest persisted throughout the crusades but also changed once efforts in Iberia caught papal attention, and those who participated in them began to receive the crusading indulgence. It is a theme reiterated throughout the book that these indulgences brought the same spiritual benefits to their recipients as did those granted to crusaders to the Holy Land: remission of sins, protection of family and property, and, in the event of death, the reward of martyrdom. O'Callaghan traces the different preferences and priorities of the popes from the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries when it came to the crusades generally, and to the Iberian crusades specifically. Early on the papacy tended to regard the efforts of Iberians as very important, even encouraging them to stay at home instead of taking their talents and treasures to the more glamorous Holy Land. Others, especially Innocent III, more than once withdrew or reduced indulgences for Iberians in favor of crusaders to the Holy Land. Another significant development in Iberian crusading was the slow but sure transference of church funds to royal pockets. Kings became so accustomed to this collection, and Spaniards so accustomed to giving it, that this source of revenue remained institutionalized in Spain long after the last crusades of Isabella and Ferdinand in the late fifteenth century; indeed, the remnants of this practice were only finally swept out with the reforms of Vatican II.

The book begins with a discussion of the differences between Crusade, Holy War, and Reconquest. Chapters Two through Five outline the shape of the historical developments of the Iberian crusades, with attention to individual crusades and kingdoms, as well as papal involvement, from the end of the eleventh to the middle of the thirteenth centuries. The last three chapters of the book are organized thematically, covering crusading warfare, finance, and perhaps most interesting (and most frustrating), liturgy. In a brief epilogue O'Callaghan summarizes many of his main themes and discusses Castilian attempts to extend the crusades to northern Africa, as well as the apparently new twist of hostility and religious hatred which entered crusading rhetoric around the time of Ferdinand and Isabella. Although only briefly mentioned, such rhetoric helps frame O'Callaghan's study, as his opening chapter ends with a short reflection on the significance of the events of September 11, 2001 for the continuing awareness of the volatile intersection of religious conviction and disciplined violence.

O'Callaghan argues that those who have understood the crusades solely in reference to the Holy Land have not understood them fully, and will not until they take into account their development in Iberia. The book's complex first chapter, "Reconquest, Holy War and Crusade," lays out the history and historiography of the Spanish effort to reclaim territory after the eighth century Islamic invasions. The struggle in Spain was centuries old by the time of the First Crusade, and had been formed by some very particular ideas about the Visigothic (and even Christian Roman) rulers of Iberia and northern Africa, which set a tone of entitlement as Asturian kings, and later Castilian, Navarrese, Leonese and Aragonese rulers dreamed of restoring their ancient rights. The development of independent Christian kingdoms put a wrinkle in this ideology of entitlement, unity and inheritance, as the Castilians would have to adjust their thinking.(6) Still, the belief in continuity remained a linchpin in the ideology of reconquest and later the practice of crusading.

O'Callaghan takes issue with the very term "Holy War;" noting an inherent contradiction, he reminds us of the fine and important distinction between the "holy" and the "religious." "Holy War" posed a problem for early and medieval Christians as well, as war itself was antithetical to Christian belief. The term "Holy War" was applied to the crusades in the later Middle Ages because of a misperception that they were intended to propagate the faith: Christians were not interested in converting Muslims, but in evicting them. O'Callaghan also touches on the debate over "convivencia," arguing that in different societies where religious values are paramount, there is bound to be conflict. Acknowledging some degree of acculturation between Christians and Muslims, he asserts no real possibility of full integration of the two groups. (10) This impossibility was the root of the conflict.

The chronological chapters describe the evolution from Christian reconquest to crusade between 1063 and 1248, when Fernando III won Seville, the kingdoms of Portugal, Castile and Aragon had reached their geographical limits, and Spanish Muslims were reduced to Granada. In the eleventh century, Iberians became subject to French influence and papal attention. O'Callaghan suggests that Spain provided an arena where some crusading ideas and practices, specifically the remission of sins and the granting of indulgences, were developed and tried out, even before Clermont in 1099. At the same time, this never would have happened without French participation, the influence of French bishops in Spain, and above all papal interest. Crucial to this argument is the identification of a bull issued by Alexander II in 1063 relieving penance and granting remission of sins to those French knights who would go to fight in Spain, three decades before the preaching of the First Crusade. O'Callaghan acknowledges the ambiguity of the bull, but decides that it implies indulgence, even if it doesn't say so, and that "indulgence" in papal crusading probably meant the remission of sins of one who confesses, is absolved, and does penance (by fighting Islam). Thereafter, papal interest in Iberian events was firm, to the point where popes began to think of their own rights in Spain, protecting their interests and even demanding that Christian kings render the "servitium" to Saint Peter, asserting that Muslim occupation had not voided papal rights. In 1123, Pope Calixtus II made explicit the equation of crusading privileges both east and west, emphasizing that those who took the vow and wore the cross should be considered crusaders and could anticipate the same spiritual benefits. A new and important element was the concession of benefits not only to warriors, but to those who supported the Church, clergy, and crusaders in other (mainly financial) ways. Although evidence of whether individuals made vows or took the cross is lacking, O'Callaghan argues that "surely these men thought of themselves as crusaders and expected to gain remission of sins." (49)

At the turn of the thirteenth century, however, Innocent III focused his crusading attention on the Holy Land, revoking indulgences for Spain and Provence at the Fourth Lateran Council. Promises to renew the indulgence, upon resumption of the struggle indicate that the Pope did not intend the indulgences to be permanent--as the kings had been treating them. Following the death of Alfonso VIII in 1214, however, this contingency could not be met, as the minorities of Christian and Muslim rulers alike precluded, for the time being, the resumption of the Iberian Crusades. This ultimately fell to the Archbishop of Toledo, Rodrigo Jimenez de Rada, and to the Leonese king Alfonso IX, "both the object of a crusade and the leader of a crusade." (83) Fernando III initially kept his truce with the Almohads, needing time to secure his throne, but around 1224, crisis among the Almohads "induced" him to crusade, and with the consent of the nobility and his mother, he abandoned the truce. O'Callaghan assumes that Fernando took a vow, interpreting de Rada's description of Fernando's dedication of the "first fruits" of his knighthood as such. (84) However, he does not satisfactorily explain why none of the narrative sources written in Fernando's lifetime say when or if he took the vow.

In Aragon, Jaime I met success in Valencia and Mallorca; in Castile, Fernando's successes continued apace. In 1231, Pope Gregory IX conceded an indulgence to Archbishop Rodrigo, as well as to anyone who would help him P presumably including the king. (This assumption allows O'Callaghan to understand Fernando's conquest of Cordoba as a crusade.) In 1236 the siege and surrender of Cordoba brought an "unexpected climax" to the Castilian offensive. Repopulation and defense of the city represented a major drain on royal resources, and the king appealed to Gregory IX, who asked the clergy to subsidize the king, and offered indulgences to the laity who would help him. O'Callaghan repeatedly emphasizes the role of the indulgence in constituting a crusade, and points out that they applied as well to those who gave money, "although unfortunately there is no evidence of how much money was raised in that way." (98) But there probably is some evidence of those who were entitled to the indulgence, or received it, e.g., Fernando's mother Berenguela. Papal support included not only the usual bulls of encouragement and the offers of indulgences: "The pope also offered the viscount of Cardona a dispensation from the law of consanguinity if he provided forty knights for the crusade." (103) This is one of the many little facts which appear throughout the book and beg for further elaboration. Such a dispensation seems fairly extraordinary, and may give insight into the relative values of Gregory IX, as well as perhaps the laity. A crusade was worth a little incest! Papal promises such as these also serve to challenge, modify, or enlarge the definition of crusade itself as an action based on indulgences: how do other sorts of dispensations or absolutions affect the nature or quality of the crusade? Does papal backing constitute a crusade? Not merely these bulls of encouragement, but promises such as the one above seem contingent on the belief that the action being undertaken would achieve some sort of remission of sins--in this case of a sinful state. In summarizing Chapter Five, O'Callaghan notes the "plethora of crusading bulls" but also that, after 1231, Fernando III did not receive any specific or renewed indulgences. He argues, however, that the "crusading tradition" in Fernando's family justifies the assertion that "Fernando III saw himself as a crusader attempting to merit remission of sins." (122) Although I am inclined to agree with O'Callaghan, it seems that such an assessment reduces the significance of actual indulgences in determining what was a crusade.

Chapter Six, "Warfare in the Crusading Era," is a gold mine of information on peninsular warfare, but as O'Callaghan acknowledges, some will find that "methods and operations were often typical of medieval warfare in general." (124) When it came to strategy and tactics, there was no distinction between crusading warfare and warfare associated with conquest. O'Callaghan outlines every aspect of war, from the planning stages to the victory celebrations. He discusses the weapons, tools, materiel, military standards (battle flags), military leadership, the forms of war (raids, seiges, and pitched battles), the distribution of booty, casualties, captives, and the use of naval forces. "Warfare involved everyone: kings, nobles, clerics, Military Orders, and town militias, though it is almost impossible to estimate the size of any given army." (150) O'Callaghan's notion of "everyone" is of course limited; no-where does the book mention the significance of women to the Iberian crusades. Although women did not fight, as Heath Dillard has shown, the interests and investments of townswomen in medieval Castile certainly were relevant to the successes and experiences of crusading warfare; more recent studies on gender and crusading might be taken into account here and elsewhere throughout the book, particularly the roles of women as captives, financiers, and councilors. Some will see this point as quibbling, undoubtedly. Others will argue that such consideration, in a book which makes the case for a more comprehensive understanding of the crusades themselves, would enrich this study. As it is, the human experience receives sympathy, but little exploration in this book.

Chapter Seven, "Financing Reconquest and Crusade," demonstrates that financing the crusades was a matter of both institutional and spiritual interest. These operations were hugely expensive and probably the greatest drain on the royal purse, causing kings to go into debt on a regular basis. They also could be lucrative, however. Kings met their expenses by a variety of strategies: one significant source of income was the tribute collected from client Muslim kingdoms. Royal demands competed with the demands of the church, particularly papal requests to supply funds for the Holy Land, but the papacy did authorize the kings to take part of the ecclesiastical funds collected for the Holy Land. During the crusades, Christian rulers "discovered" the Church as a source of income. Thus, Spanish kings appropriated church funds to pay for their crusades and conquests. Papal ambivalence and a number of precedents allowed the kings to have their way, and an occasional, extraordinary tax soon became custom. The kings levied extraordinary taxes on the people, and borrowed from courtiers and towns alike. Records are lacking, but it is clear that the Jews were deeply involved in the financing of the crusades (an interesting dynamic that might receive more scrutiny) and received payment in kind, such as property in Seville. (173). O'Callaghan looks at salaries at the churches and the University of Salamanca, as well as the cost of goods in an attempt to understand the social impact of such royal demands.

In his final, speculative chapter, "The Liturgy of Reconquest and Crusade," O'Callaghan returns to the questions of crusadings motives, asserting "The religious rituals or liturgy associated with the war against Islam were equally important as considerations of strategy." (176) He discusses the preaching of the crusade, which resorted to stock themes: wrongful occupation of the infidel, God on the side of the Christians, and the just cause. Preachers stressed the indulgence--the spiritual reward to be obtained by crusading--but also preached about the possibility of booty and the promise of martyrdom. O'Callaghan grapples here with the practice of swearing a vow and wearing a cross. He is convinced that the kings we see as crusaders did these things, even though the sources are not explicit on the subject. This is interesting and problematic: either the sources took such actions for granted, and found the detail too obvious to mention, or it was not a common practice. If the kings did not swear a vow, then, or wear the cross, did that mean they did not consider themselves crusaders? O'Callaghan describes the development of the ceremony and ritual associated with taking and wearing the cross, arguing that Spanish Christians were familiar with taking vows, for example in the case of entering monastic life. Thus, seems to be his reasoning, why not a vow for crusade? He sees the phrase "accepted the cross" as indicative that Pedro I, for example, had taken the crusader's vow and wore the sign of the cross. (181) O'Callaghan doesn't limit identification of crusaders with only those who had taken the cross, however, e.g. Alfonso I. (181) The liturgical framework of a crusade vow and assumption of the cross were not fully developed: we must infer the practices from descriptions in the chronicles, which were themselves vague: O'Callaghan believes that "every time a monarch set out on a major campaign supported by crusading bulls he renewed his vow and the act of taking the cross." (185)

The vow was the initial step in the liturgy of the crusade. Preparation for battle was also part of this liturgy. Arms were blessed, sins absolved, the mass was celebrated, God called upon to lend assistance. The ancient Romans and Visigoths followed a special liturgy when their kings went off to war, and O'Callaghan believes that the liturgies performed around the initiation of a crusade were based on these, although with the replacement of the Mozarabic rite by the Roman rite, these rituals took on a more generic European flavor. Processions in France and Italy incorporated the entire Christian populace into the crusading liturgy, and O'Callaghan speculates that they likely took place in Spain as well. Other elements of the liturgical performance were the use of religious banners or standards in battle, and the invocation of saints. O'Callaghan's loosely defined liturgy includes the emphasis on the idea of martyrdom, and the burial and mourning of the dead. The most interesting of rituals surrounding the celebration of victory was the cleansing of mosques and their transformation into churches. (204) Following the victory, a triumphal return was celebrated; following defeat, a procession qualified by lament. "Every effort was made to surround the military enterprise with liturgical rituals intended to encourage and to justify the actions to be undertaken." (207)

Complaints about this book are few. It is dense, and although O'Callaghan writes clearly, the reader sometimes feels almost an assault of factual information, sprinkled with cautious speculation. O'Callaghan's sources include aboth Christian and Muslim narratives, annals, papal bulls, royal charters, and literary sources, such as the songs of the troubadours which he uses to good effect to enliven his otherwise somewhat dry, encyclopedic text. This sense is aggravated by the book's super-rational organization. Each chapter is fractured into many small subtexts, all relevant, but making it difficult to keep the overall narrative or argument in mind. This quality makes the book difficult to review in a succinct manner, without skipping many important discussions; let it suffice to say here that the book is very, very thorough--and it has an excellent index and bibliography. Although the chronological organization of the second, third, and fourth chapters of the book is very helpful, the latter chapters which are more thematic are easier to read and appreciate. In general there is a tendency towards redundancy as material laid out in previous chronological chapters is reexamined in a new light. For these reasons the book is perhaps better approached as a reference, and a background text, but to be used cautiously in teaching. There are two main audiences for this book: Hispanists and Crusade scholars. The book is a good scholarly introduction to both fields, and thus could be used with advanced undergraduates.

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Miriam Shadis

Ohio University