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13.03.02, Constable, trans., How to Defeat the Saracens

13.03.02, Constable, trans., How to Defeat the Saracens

I remember that the first time I came across William of Adam's work, the Tractatus quomodo Sarraceni expugnandi, I was considerably puzzled by its inclusion in the second volume of the Recueil des historiens des croisades: Documents arméniens which was published in 1906. It proved marginal to my then interests and I never, to my shame, pursued the reasons for this extraordinary placing of a western work. Giles Constable here explains the extraordinarily long and confused gestation of this volume with aplomb, and I am quite certain that he is correct in suggesting that this in part explains neglect of William of Adam's work. Its disinterment in this splendid edition, however, must be seen as part of the renewed interest in crusading after the fall of Acre in 1291 which has been so notable in recent years. The leading force in this revival has been Norman Housely who published a series of works culminating in his Later Crusades. [1]

A natural consequence of this scholarly development is an interest in the rather numerous plans for a crusade which were put forward in the centuries after 1291. For most Anglophone students the best known of these was for long Pierre Dubois' De recuperatione terrae sanctae, simply because over half a century ago it was translated into English. [2] But in many ways this is the least interesting of the crusader tracts composed after 1291 because it is so obviously intended as propaganda for the French monarchy. By contrast, it was not until 2011 that a full translation of Marino Sanudo Torsello's The Book of the Secrets of the Faithful of the Cross became available. [3] The interest of this work is that Sanudo was a member of a great Venetian family who held many of the islands of the Aegean from Venice as Dukes of the Archipelago. He was very familiar with the Mediterranean as a theatre of war and his tract is concerned with practicalities. As a first step toward a crusade he suggested an economic embargo on western trade with Mamluk Egypt, an idea taken up by William of Adam and many others. Marino Sanudo Torsello's view of how to bring about a successful crusade was closely informed by his real knowledge of the Mediterranean.

William of Adam had something of Sanudo's knowledge of the Mediterranean, but he also had a much wider experience of the Muslim world and its eastern neighbours, and at the same time was a scholar with a fine knowledge of the past, and all this conditioned his approach to the problem of the recovery of the Holy Land. William was probably born about 1275 and he was of southern French origin, although the place of his birth is uncertain and we know nothing of his family. He joined the Dominican Order which had had an active mission in Iran since 1245. At its heart was the archbishopric of Sultanieh, all of whose suffragans were Dominican. Its Province was enormous, covering Iran and an area from Greece to South India, perhaps also taking in parts of the east coast of Africa. The mission was deeply concerned with caring for Armenian Christians who were scattered across a huge area. But essentially its work was possible because the rulers of the Mongol Il-Khanate which ruled Iran sought alliance with western powers against their bitter enemies, the Mamluks of Egypt. William, as he tells us at length, had travelled extensively in the East, but by 1316-17 he was back in France, and it was in those years that he composed the Tractatus. It was presumably because of his eastern experience that in 1318 he was named as one of the suffragans of the archdiocese of Sultanieh, but shortly after he was raised to be bishop of Smyrna. By 1322 he had returned to France where he became archbishop of Sultanieh, but by 1324 he had returned to the West and was made bishop of Antivari, the modern Bar on the Adriatic coast. He continued to be active in papal circles until his death, probably about 1338/9.

William's experience in these lands coloured his tract with fascinating accounts of the sufferings of the Christians of the East. But his main concern was the liberation of the Holy Land. Like Sanudo and many others, he believed that the long-standing prohibition against Christian trade with Egypt should be enforced. In opposing this trade William was highly specific. He denounced the Genoese because of the scale of their business with the Mamluks, and regarded them as the most wicked of those he called Alexandrini because that city was their point of contact in the Muslim world. Most particularly, he excoriated Seguranus Salvago and his family as key players in this business which he regarded as a betrayal of Christendom. He was also well aware that the Genoese were important transporters of steppe Turks from their Black Sea outposts to Egypt where they were trained for the formidable Mamluk army (35). At the same time he expected the Genoese to lend their support to a general passagium for the recovery of the Holy Land. Like numerous others, William believed that pilgrimage to the Holy Land should be forbidden because the Mamluks profited by levying fees on the pious travellers. He shared in the deep distrust of the Byzantine Empire which had long informed papal policy, partly because they treated with the Muslims (40-3), but also because (62-3) he clearly understood that Constantinople was the best base for the attack on the enemy.

William's treatise places much emphasis on cultivating the Mongols, and especially the Il-Khanids of Persia, who, as he well knew, hated the Mamluks. He recognised the importance of Egypt's trade with India, and urged a blockade in the Indian Ocean by an alliance with the Il-Khan which would permit western ships to enter the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. William was not original in his prescriptions--almost all who discussed the recovery of the Holy Land knew about the Il-Khanids--but his emphasis on this alliance was novel. Furthermore, in William's treatise these strands of thinking are somewhat more coherently connected and represent a coherent strategy. In many ways William's book complements the thinking of a later writer on the recovery of the Holy Land, Philippe de Mézières (c. 1327-1405). Philippe was a layman and a knight deeply concerned with the business of fighting the Turks and the military aspects of the delivery of Jerusalem, while William, a clergyman, took a primarily economic and political approach. Yet both were informed by a deep devotion to their cause and a profound sense of Christian belief. [4] Indeed William seems to have been quite a prolific author, but Constable is sceptical of the idea that he wrote the Directorium ad passagium faciendum (3). This work resembles William's in many passages, but after a brisk and thorough review of the evidence Constable argues persuasively that its unknown author, who was writing about twelve to fifteen years after William, probably used some passages from the Tractatus.

The Tractatus survives in only three manuscripts, all of which show connections with the Council of Basel (1431-49). Only one of these bears the title Tractatus quomodo Sarraceni expugnandi, and that in a later hand; Constable sensibly accepts this because it is so well known and provides a brief and neat English translation, How to Defeat the Saracens. As Constable shows, the differences between the three manuscripts are relatively insignificant. The editor sets out his reasons for choosing particular divisions and punctuations with admirable clarity, and his decision to employ 'commonly accepted standards' in spelling is entirely sensible. The translation achieves his purpose 'to stay as close as possible to the original,' without being in any way stilted (18). Overall this is an elegant and well-realized edition, in which Constable acknowledges the support of his co-authors, Ranabir Chakravarti, Olivia Remie Constable, Tia Kolbaba and Janet M. Martin. It would have been nice to have had rather more contextual information in the introduction, and especially some comparison with the other crusader treatises. However, the excellent footnotes point the way to pursue the subject further and the whole book is accomplished with an admirable brevity, such as William aspired to (4), so this is only the most minor of criticisms.



1. Norman Housley, The Later Crusades: From Lyons to the Alcazar, 1274-1580 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

2. Walter I. Brandt, trans., Pierre Dubois The Recovery of the Holy Land (New York: Columbia University Press, 1956).

3. Marino Sanudo Torsello, The Book of the Secrets of the Faithful of the Cross, trans. Peter Lock, Crusader Texts in Translation 21 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2011).

4. J. France, 'Philippe de Mézières and the Military History of the Fourteenth Century,' in Philippe de Mézières and His Age: Piety and Politics in the Fourteenth Century, ed. R.Blumenfeld-Kosinski and K.Petrov (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 283-