09.03.11, Beihammer, Parani, and Schabel, eds., Diplomatics in the Eastern Mediterranean

Main Article Content

G. A. Loud

The Medieval Review baj9928.0903.011


Beihammer, Alexander D., Maria G. Parani, and Christopher D. Schabel, eds.. Diplomatics in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1000-1500: Aspects of Cross-Cultural Communication. The Medieval Mediterranean, vol. 74. Leiden: Brill, 2008. Pp. xvi, 467. ISBN: 978-90-04-16547-2.

Reviewed by:
G. A. Loud
University of Leeds

Published versions of conference proceedings often suffer from two flaws. First, the contributions can be of very varied quality, and significant and interesting contributions are counterbalanced by a leavening of dross that considerations of tact and diplomacy prevented the editors from omitting. Secondly, such publications often lack coherence, and even where there may be an overarching theme to the conference, some contributors honour this more in the breach than in the observance. However, it is a pleasure to report that the nineteen papers in this volume (fourteen in English, four in French and one in German), the products of a conference held at the University of Cyprus in April 2006, are of almost uniformly high quality and interest, and while one or two may take a fairly loose interpretation of the overall theme, most of the contributions display a strong methodological coherence. As Alexander Beihammer explains, in a useful introductory chapter, the organisers sought to investigate communication and interaction between the various cultural groups of the late medieval eastern Mediterranean through the light of their documentary production. Beihammer goes on to survey the extent of this documentation, showing how recent editions have transformed the possibilities of research in this region. (A prospective research student would indeed find a great deal of useful information in this short survey alone).

The editors divide the volume into three sections: the first entitled "Archival sources for the Latin east," but relating almost entirely to Romania, the former Byzantine Empire under Latin rule; the second dealing with Cyprus (inevitably the main geographical focus of this volume); and the third concerning diplomacy and Christians under Muslim rule. The first and third sections cohere somewhat less well than the Cypriot one, but nevertheless all the individual essays, without exception, are of interest, and almost all have something useful to say about, or illustrate some aspect of, the interplay of Franks and Greeks, and Christians and Muslims, in the eastern Mediterranean. The tone is set by a masterly first essay by David Jacoby, studying the use of languages and the role of Greek notaries and administrators in facilitating the western administration of former Byzantine territories, and especially Venetian Crete during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. How, he asks, did Frankish or Venetian administrators utilise the extant records and administrative practices of their new territories, and how did they transmit their wishes (and those of the Venetian Senate) to the subject population?

Several essays proceed directly from recent editions or continuing research projects. There is a danger that such contributions may appear purely descriptive, as for example in Karl Borchardt's discussion of the material in the early fifteenth-century Hospitaller registers that relates to Cyprus, or in the essays by Nicholas Coureas, on Genoese notarial chartularies from Cyprus c. 1300, and Catherine Otten-Froux on the records of the court of the Genoese Captain of Famagusta in the mid-fifteenth century. Yet even here there is much of interest. The documents discussed by Coureas, for example, reveal a great deal about the trade of Cyprus in the years immediately after the fall of the mainland Crusader states, the urban topography of Famagusta, the main port of the island, and even the role of the clergy in moneylending. The outstanding contribution of this sort in the volume is that by Michel Balard, whose discussion of the material in the twenty surviving registers from the Genoese treasury at Famagusta, dating from 1391 to 1463, provides a fascinating analysis of the population structure of the town during the years of Genoese occupation, following the seizure of 1374. How the kings of Cyprus reacted to this Genoese aggression, and how they systematically avoided paying the indemnities demanded by Genoa and the money fiefs they had been forced to grant to Genoese citizens, is explained in a subsequent essay by Svetlana Bliznyuk, based on her edition of fifteenth-century Genoese diplomatic and legal documents concerning Cyrpus, published in 2005. Her conclusion on the relations between the two powers, or rather exploiter and exploited, is somewhat bleak: "hypocrisy and rhetoric turned into normal diplomatic procedures."

Other occupations are dealt with in two essays in the final part of the volume, by Kostis Smyrlis and Johannes Pahlitzsch. The former examines the evidence for landholding by Athonite monasteries during the first Turkish occupation of Macedonia, between 1383/7 and 1403, showing the sorts of accommodations that Christians, even monks, were prepared to make in order to retain at least some of their property under the alien regime, and the private arrangements that might be made by some of those who had been granted land by the Sultan with the former owners of such property. The evidence used is drawn primarily from a forthcoming edition of the archives of the Vatopedi monastery from 1377 onwards. Pahlitzsch examines only two documents, but these shed light on the Georgian monastery of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem under Mamluk rule in the mid-fourteenth century. They show inter alia the abbot petitioning the Sultan and producing documents in court from earlier Sultans of Egypt, notably the Ayyubid al-Kamil (died 1238). Pahlitzsch concludes that they illustrate "the ability of the Orthodox Christians to adapt to the surrounding Islamic culture, at least in the sphere of law." Adaption is also the theme of Bejamin Kedar's insightful study of Christian-Muslim diplomacy, analysing in particular how religious formulae were rendered in correspondence and treaties without giving offence to the opposite side.

Some of the essays in the first section might seem to be rather more loosely connected to the overall theme. Thus Brenda Bolton discusses two letters reproduced by English chroniclers and purporting to come from the leader of the Assassins, absolving Richard the Lion Heart from blame for the murder of Conrad of Montferrat, which have usually been dismissed as forgeries. Yet she appears to suggest that these may have had genuine Ismaili sources--in which case we are indeed dealing with an extremely interesting example of inter-cultural communication. Two others, by William Duba on papal views of the canonical status of the Patriarchs of Constantinople, and Chris Schabal on the first Latin Archbishop of Patras, deal almost exclusively with the new Latin Church established after 1204, and the Greeks play only an incidental role. However, both essays provide admirable case studies of why Innocent III's hopes that re-union with the Orthodox might be achieved were doomed to inevitable failure, and Schabel's contribution gives yet another illustration of the in-fighting, disputes about property, and outright corruption that dogged the Church within the Latin Empire of Constantinople. Not for nothing does Schabel christen his subject "Antelm the nasty". Whether or not his essay is directly related to the overall theme of the conference, it ought to feature on undergraduate reading lists for the Latin Empire. So too should the study by Houbert Houben of the Teutonic Knights in Palestine, Armenia and Cyprus, which indeed I have already brought to the attention of my own students. While again only peripherally related to the theme of the conference, this essay provides a thoughtful, thorough and valuable survey, not least useful in that it presents the results of German and Italian scholars to an Anglophone audience.

Space precludes discussing every essay in this volume. Suffice it to say that even though one or two of those not mentioned are slighter works, every contribution still has points of interest. In short, this is a rich and varied collection, from which both undergraduates and advanced scholars will profit. It breaks important new ground in understanding the meeting of cultures and religions in the late- medieval Levant, and in particular on Cyprus, and shows us how much more is to be learned with the continued study and publication of surviving sources.

Article Details

Author Biography

G. A. Loud

University of Leeds