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13.10.13, Chrissis, Crusading in Frankish Greece

13.10.13, Chrissis, Crusading in Frankish Greece

With Crusading in Frankish Greece, Nikolaos Chrissis has contributed carefully researched and useful scholarship that requires consideration not only from crusade historians but also from all with an interest in the thirteenth century papacy, Latin Empire, or the Byzantine successor states. Chrissis shows that crusading in Frankish Greece (or Romania, as he uses the two terms interchangeably) played an important role in the history of the area, that its progression can be tracked over the course of the thirteenth century, and that it influenced the evolution of crusading in general during this period. These accomplishments are realized primarily via the analysis of papal policy extracted from the correspondence of the curia.

In the Introduction (xv-xlii), Chrissis examines recent scholarship that touches upon his topic. He accurately notes that much of the scholarship on crusading and Byzantium, whether by crusade historians or Byzantinists, tends to focus on the centuries surrounding the 13th century. It is both easy and common for historians to frame their work around rather than in this chaotic period. Chrissis argues that crusading in the thirteenth century has not received the same attention as church union negotiations (xxi). After a lengthy and somewhat tedious historiographical review (xviii-xxvii), Chrissis provides a useful sketch of the polities and stakeholders in the region circa 1204 and reviews the sources he will use. These sources naturally include the papal registers of the period, and also the letters of regional rulers and the narrative histories of the Byzantine successor states and the states of Frankish Greece (xxxviii- xlii).

The title for each chapter is helpfully quite descriptive of its contents. In Chapter 1, "Justification (1204-1216): Innocent III and the Legitimization of Crusading against the Greeks," Chrissis demonstrates how Innocent moved from condemning the diversion of the Fourth Crusade to Constantinople to supporting crusading against the Byzantines. The pope needed to avoid being outmaneuvered by the new Latin Emperor, Baldwin I, who was requesting crusade support (15). Beyond this, Innocent was able to convince himself that supporting the Latin Empire would help the effort to reclaim Jerusalem, because Constantinople could be envisioned as a step on the road to the Holy Land (19). Innocent also argued that a crusade in Romania would help to return the Greek Church to "obedience" (34). Early crusades to the region justified and normalized the concept and as Chrissis cleverly points out, what was a "perversion" in 1204 was by 1210 a "sacred cause for Christendom" (43).

In Chapter 2, "Consolidation (1216-1227): Honorius III and the Montferrat Crusade for the Kingdom of Thessalonica," Chrissis shows how Honorius surpassed Innocent in deploying crusading mechanisms in Romania. Although Honorius put in doubt the benefit of the Latin Empire to the cause of the Holy Land, he also simply promoted the Latin Empire to a worthwhile cause of its own. Crusading in Romania received the benefit of new advances in the institutionalization of crusading, including a promise that the indulgence received for crusading there should be equal to the Holy Land, and that funds raised through church taxation should be used to support crusades in the region (81). Although Honorius wanted to protect the Fifth Crusade and the cause of Jerusalem, he nevertheless organized a sizeable crusade to Romania, which however had little effect (72-76).

Chapter 3, "Apogee (1227-1241): Gregory IX and the Crusade Against John III Vatatzes and John II Asen," describes the repeated efforts of Gregory to dispatch significant crusades in support of the Latin Empire. A key development of this period was the papal argument that the Greeks were not just schismatic but also heretics and enemies of God, which alone made them acceptable crusade targets (103-104). Chrissis has a significant disagreement with Michael Lower about whether the pope intended to divert the Baron's Crusade from the Holy Land to the Latin Empire. Chrissis argues that Gregory only intended Thibaut to help recruit for the crusade to Romania, not to join himself. As evidence, he notes that the letter from Gregory to Thibaut asked the latter "in rather vague terms to provide help," and that the pope did not specifically request Thibaut to go personally to Constantinople (106). It is a curious oversight that Chrissis does not provide the specific language that he considers to be so vague.

In Chapter 4, "Retrenchment (1241-1261): Innocent IV, Alexander IV, and the Gradual Abandonment of the Latin Empire," Chrissis explains how the papacy gradually abandoned crusading in Romania in favor of the pursuit of church union. Crusading in the area tapered off rather than ending abruptly, with the popes scaling back from crusade recruiting to using church taxes to fund the defense of the Latin Empire (148). He argues convincingly that the popes were forced into this position by pressure of circumstances: the crusades in support of the Latin Empire were not popular and the papacy was increasingly drawn into its conflict with the Hohenstaufen (172).

Chapter 5, "Revival and Reorientation (1261-1282): Papal Crusading Policy between Michael Palaiologos and Charles of Anjou," describes the church union of 1274, the temporary cessation of crusading in Romania, and finally its redeployment as an instrument of Charles of Anjou. Following the conquest of Constantinople by Michael Palaiologos, the popes made halfhearted attempts to organize a crusade to restore the city to Latin control, but then turned this effort into a push for church union. From the union in 1274 to 1280 the papacy mostly worked with Palaiologos. But Chrissis shows that Pope Martin IV was largely a creature of Charles of Anjou, and excommunicated Palaiologos on Charles' behalf (239-240). Although Charles hoped to use crusading privileges for his invasion of the Byzantine Empire, Martin IV failed to provide a formal call to crusade (244-246). The revolt of the Sicilian Vespers broke Charles' power and put an end to the invasion plans.

In a conclusion, Chrissis briefly describes the period after 1282 up to about 1308. He reviews his findings on the issuing of indulgences and funding requests for crusades in Romania. He argues that crusading is an "underlying element of unity" for examining the region and accurately notes that crusades there had enormous impact regardless of their military success (262-263). A helpful series of appendices provide maps, lists of rulers, and a nice table of crusading activity in Romania during the period that summarizes the findings of the text (Appendix III).

This is an important piece of scholarship in that it really does fill a need. Although there has been a flood of monographs on the crusades in the last decade, there is nothing really comparable to this book. Like the crusaders of the period who preferred crusades closer to home or the crusade to the Holy Land over crusading in the Latin Empire, modern historians have by and large preferred to study other crusades rather than those in Romania. Chrissis is right to point out this gap and his book is a welcome step toward remedying it. The book is meticulously noted and firmly grounded in the recent scholarship on the crusades. Chrissis shows convincingly why the papacy promoted crusading in the region on some occasions more than others. As a bonus, the writing is generally lively and sprinkled with a few wry comments to keep things interesting (the reader will smile at the crack that Pope Honorius III "did not seem equally disturbed about the fate of the Emperor Peter" [67]).

This lively and interesting style is sometimes deployed too aggressively. The comment that crusades were more important than "a squabble among clergymen on issues of theology" will surely win Chrissis no friends with theologians and other scholars interested in religious disputes (xv). Repetition abounds in parts of the text, perhaps a remnant of the dissertation from which this book sprung. For example, descriptions of crusading under Gregory IX in a brief introduction (83-86) and in the first section of the chapter immediately after (87-93) read similarly. In the same fashion, Chrissis describes the excommunication of John Asen and a corresponding call for crusade in that introduction (85), again in section four of the chapter (103-105), and again at the end of the same section (113-114). The culprit for much of the repetition is the organization, which rigidly provides a separate introduction and conclusion for each chapter, except, curiously, the fifth.

It is also worth mentioning that while the book's subtitle establishes the boundaries of the study to be 1204 and 1282, these boundaries are neither rigorously observed nor fully justified. Chrissis' justification for ending in 1282 is that crusading in the early fourteenth century responded to "a different set of circumstances" in the East (249). Nevertheless, Chrissis spends several pages examining crusading in Frankish Greece between 1282 and 1331 in the conclusion (271-273). This is a tantalizing glimpse. It would have been interesting to see a chapter devoted to a more complete analysis of this period, in which Byzantium gradually shifted from being attacked by crusades to being a candidate to be protected by crusades.

These last remarks are not intended to diminish the significance of this book. Those with an interest in crusading, the papacy, and the Latin Empire more generally should read Crusading in Frankish Greece. This book is an important contribution and a now required starting point for further research in any of these fields.