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13.12.01, Bird, Peters, and Powell, eds., Crusade and Christendom

13.12.01, Bird, Peters, and Powell, eds., Crusade and Christendom


A battered and much-annotated copy of Edward Peters' sourcebook Christian Society and the Crusades, 1198-1229 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971) sits on a shelf in my office. I assigned it in my first class as the instructor of record, back when I was a graduate student, and I have used it regularly ever since. At the time, I thought it provided the best pathway into three pivotal decades in the history of the Crusades, a period during which the practice of Catholic holy war permanently spread beyond the Levantine theater. I am now retiring that book, thanks to the publication of the terrific new collection of sources by Jessalyn Bird, Edward Peters, and the late James Powell.

It would not be fair to Crusade and Christendom to describe it as just an update to its much-used predecessor, as the new work dwarfs the previous collection in both scale and ambition. It builds on the material from the previous work, but then stretches its range to 1291. The new material on crusades against Muslims from 1227-1270 provides by far the best collection of sources on these complicated and overlapping campaigns. The book provides translations of many sources previously unavailable in English. Although most of the sources come from the Latin West, with repeated use of Ibn Wasil's history of the Ayyubids (written circa 1282) being the main exception, these sources reflect multiple perspectives on events. The sources span many genres including chronicles, letters, political documents, and diverse religious texts. Thus, readers are offered both narrative accounts of important events and various types of interpretations of the sacred and political meanings of those events.

The book opens with Audita Tremendi, the crusading letter issued in 1187 by Pope Gregory VIII. The editors use this text, chronologically the earliest in the book, to set up their Introduction to the history of crusading, ideas about crusading, and especially the influence of Pope Innocent III on the transformations of crusading in the thirteenth century. It's an unusual introduction, in some ways, as sourcebooks often just contain a basic summary of facts so that the uninformed student might acquire enough context to make sense of the primary sources. This reviewer rarely assigns introductions, preferring to guide the students into the sources personally. But here, the editors are making an argument about the nature of crusading around 1200 and how it permeated medieval culture. They include critical and positive poems about specific crusades, discuss the legacy of the First Crusade on crusading ideas over a century after the conquest of Jerusalem, and explain the ways in which the papacy both controlled and failed to control crusading ideas and actions.

In some ways, Part I might be considered an extension of the Introduction as it covers a lot of ground fairly briefly. In most of the book, each source is numbered and presented separately. But editors treat the Fourth Crusade, Albigensian Crusade, Las Navas de Tolosa, and the Children's Crusade with a cluster of excerpts for each event. This mirrors the format of the previous volume and the editors acknowledge that their goal was to provide sources for just a few key moments in these complex events. While they see Innocent III as pivotal in the history of crusading, the book in fact moves quite quickly past the military campaigns during his reign to get at the ideas these campaigns generated. Part II, therefore, considers "Crusade and Council," narrowly focused on the years 1213-1215. In this chapter, the significant contributions of this new volume start to emerge. The older volume contained two texts from the great council, whereas this book provides context. Three of Innocent's letters from 1213 are matched with an anonymous recruiting sermon. This sermon, newly translated by Bird, suggests ways that the ideas in Rome moved into the broader population.

Part III contains sources on the Fifth Crusade. A complete translation of Oliver of Paderborn's The Capture of Damietta occupies the center of the chapter. It's a pleasure to see full and long texts given space in a volume like this, especially in a book meant for students. Too often, in the interest of coverage, sourcebooks hand the "important" parts of a source to students, rather than letting them experience the full voice of an author and figure out for themselves on which parts they should focus. Part IV, "The Emperor's Crusade," concerns the activities of Emperor Frederick II in the Holy Land. It consists mostly of material from the previous volume, though here the editors have usefully added the perspective of the late thirteenth- century administrator and ambassador, Ibn Wasil.

Parts V through VIII represent the heart of the new contributions of this volume. Each addresses a particular aspect of crusading during central centuries of the thirteenth century, with the chronologies overlapping from one section to the next. The Barons' Crusade (1234- 1245) went in different directions. The Mongol Crusades (1241-1262) featured much more talk than successful action. The editors handle these sections extremely well, with useful introductions to the sources and events in question and a very careful selection of sources that get at the transmission of ideas in the mid-century. Ranging from Count Thibaut IV of Champagne's poems, to papal documents, letters from the Templars, formal histories, and liturgical documents, these chapters offer by far the best collection of sources on these two topics. In both cases, the sources demonstrate that interest in crusading remained powerful even when the movement lacked clarity in terms of how and where to act.

Part VII turns to the "Saint's Crusades (1248-1270)" and the varied crusading enterprises of King Louis IX of France. The editors are, of course, well aware that translations of Jean de Joinville's Life of St. Louis are readily available. Their selections would complement a reading of this central text, rather than replace it. This section includes an 11-page selection of sources on the Pastoreaux and some Islamic commentary.

Part VIII, "The Italian Crusades," is the one section wholly dedicated to crusading in Europe. It continues to explore themes raised by sources in Part IV (on Frederick II's crusades) and looks at ways in which crusading both theoretically united Christendom and revealed its bitter divisions. The sources here lack some of the splendid variety of previous sections, relying instead on formal histories (Matthew of Paris, for example) and papal documents. This reviewer wanted to know more about liturgical or literary responses to the sacralized wars within Italy, but perhaps translations of such sources simply do not exist.

Part IX, "Living and Dying on Crusade," breaks with the chronological flow of the book to provide some overviews of what crusading might have been like for medieval people. The section includes contracts, lawsuits, complaints about "ignoble pilgrims," a will, and other related documents.

Part X completes the chronological scope of the book by quickly advancing the material to the fall of Acre in 1291. As with Part VIII, the section seems to lack some of the popular texts focused on transmission of ideas and the consequences of those ideas, relying instead on more formal approaches. Even the Opusculum tripartitum (1272-1274) by Humbert of Romans, an expert on preaching, reads more as an academic treatise than an attempt to sway public sentiment. The strength of the opening and middle sections of the book makes the collection of sources in the latter parts seem a little less exciting, if still very useful to support the closing of the narrative of crusading in the thirteenth century.

Collections of sources always reflect difficult choices made by the editors. Rather than just providing a tool for classroom use, the editors seem to have made their choices in order to support their thesis about the nature and importance of crusading in the Middle Ages. At the close of the Introduction, the editors write, "The period 1198-1291 witnessed many momentous changes in western Europe. The crusade was central, not peripheral in all of these. The experience of actual crusades paradoxically serves as a measure of both the awareness of universal Christendom and the many local interests and anxieties that continued to constitute it" (23). This is a strong statement of the centrality of crusading to understanding the Middle Ages and one that may encounter skepticism from scholars not already committed to the study of the Crusades. The collection's many sources focused not on events in the East but on reaction from the West support this thesis. Moreover, some of the editors' exclusions-- Islamic sources, Byzantine sources, the Northern Crusades--make more sense with this overarching argument in mind. The editors use their sources to link events in Otremer to new ideas, internal conflicts, and manifestations of crusading in the Latin West and to argue that one cannot understand the Catholic world of the West without an understanding of crusading, even failed, haphazard, or internecine expressions of crusading.

This is more than just a new sourcebook. It provides thorough and thoughtful introductions to sources and their contexts, useful bibliographical notes for each topic, an implicit argument about the nature of the Crusades, and as comprehensive a collection of sources on the thirteenth-century Crusades as exists on the market. If you teach the Crusades, you will want a copy on your bookshelves. Medievalists of all sorts should ensure that their students have access to these sources through their library. It will greatly enrich any course or project in which it is assigned.