15.08.31, Piana and Carlsson, eds., Archaeology and Architecture of the Military Orders

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Helen Nicholson

The Medieval Review 15.08.31

Piana, Mathias, and Christer Carlsson, eds. Archaeology and Architecture of the Military Orders: New Studies. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2014. pp. xii, 262. ISBN: 97814720534 (hardback) 9781472423351 (ebook).

Reviewed by:
Helen Nicholson
Cardiff University

This volume grew out of the fifth quadrennial conference on the Military Orders in 2009, at which so many high-quality research papers were presented that it was not possible to include them all in a single volume of proceedings. Mathias Piana and Christer Carlsson took on the task of editing a second volume which includes not only papers from that conference but also additional research papers on the theme of the archaeology and architecture of the military religious orders. It includes the work of both young and more established scholars of the military religious orders working in Europe and Israel, and is introduced by a leading international scholar of the military orders, Anthony Luttrell. The papers are well illustrated, and the editors have provided a useful index.

The book is divided into three sections, each focussed on the archaeology and architecture of one of the major international military religious orders: the Hospital of St John (the Hospitallers, now the Order of Malta), the Templars, and the Teutonic Order. Within these sections there are studies of buildings on the frontiers of Latin Christendom (the eastern Mediterranean, Prussia) and within Christendom's more peaceful regions, distant from the frontier (southern France, Italy, Norway), presenting a contrast between the architectural priorities of these different regions.

The papers are based on study of surviving buildings, excavation and geophysical survey, geographical and topographical surveys and a range of documentary evidence, demonstrating the value of multi-disciplinary research. For example, the first section, on the Hospitallers, opens with a study by Elena Bellomo of the Hospitallers' cabrei from the Italian langue, which survive in government archives in Italy. Cabrei were land registers that included written descriptions and, from the seventeenth century, drawings of the relevant properties. The Italian Hospitallers’ oldest surviving written cabrei date from 1566, while the oldest with drawings of the properties date from 1616. The Hospitallers' statutes required that these records should be updated every twenty years, and even though the Italian houses did not comply with this requirement, there was sufficient updating of records for modern scholars to assess how these houses developed from the late sixteenth/early seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth. Bellomo explains that although the early drawings are difficult to interpret and do not appear to match the written descriptions, later drawings were very accurate, providing a scale and cross-sections of buildings. In addition to allowing detailed study of the Hospitallers' houses in the early modern period, these records enable scholars to reconstruct the farmed landscape and urban areas where the Order's houses were located, establishing land use and location of buildings, exploring how the Order shaped the landscape over time, tracing: "continuity and change, improvement, but also regression and crisis." (18) Bellomo points out that these records are also valuable for archaeologists preparing for excavation of these sites, as they show which buildings existed and their relative locations.

Her paper is followed by Christer Carlsson's description of fieldwork at the former Hospitaller commandery at Varne in Norway, which was destroyed during the Reformation of the sixteenth century. The commandery church has been excavated and a geophysical survey carried out over the rest of the former commandery site, revealing the foundations of a building 50m long and 10m wide that lay north of the chapel and south of the present house. Carlsson discusses possible interpretations of the site, comparing it to other known Hospitaller sites in Scandinavia.

The two final papers in this section take us to the frontiers of Christendom, to the eastern Mediterranean. Michael Heslop considers the positioning of the Hospitallers' fortresses on the islands of Leros, Kalymnos, Kos and Bodrum, arguing that "the network of sight lines would have made it difficult for enemy ships to approach the islands unseen." (61) He assesses how effective this system was in practice against first the Mamluks and then the Ottoman Turks, showing that it could operate only with the co-operation of the islands' inhabitants. Benjamin Michaudel discusses the Hospitallers' and Templars' castles in Syria after their capture by the Mamluks in the 1270s-1280s. He argues that, rather than destroying the castles, the Mamluk sultans integrated them into their empire, and describes how Sultan Baybars restored and improved the Hospitallers' former castles of Krak des Chevaliers and Margat.

The second section of the book follows a similar pattern to the first, with two papers on Templar architecture in the heart of Latin Christendom followed by a study on Templar architecture in the eastern Mediterranean. Nadia Bagnarini offers a study in Italian of the history and architecture of the Templars in the province of Viterbo, or Tuscia Viterbese. She shows that the former Templar buildings in this area show common architectural features, but that there is no evidence of a specifically Templar form of architecture. Damian Carraz surveys the state of research on the archaeology of Templar and Hospitaller sites in southern France. He reminds us that these properties were not static but developed during the period that they were owned by the military orders: some of the sites donated to the Templars and Hospitallers included already-existing buildings, sometimes the Orders destroyed these, but sometimes they incorporated them into their own constructions. However, in the case of buildings that are now fortified, most fortifications date from the Hundred Years' war and did not exist during the Templars' period.

These commanderies could have a considerable impact on the local population. Rooms within a commandery may have been open to outsiders seeking charity; a church adjacent to a commandery could have been used by both the members of the order and the local parishioners, and both the Templars and Hospitallers allowed their lay benefactors and others burial within their cemeteries. Throughout this study Carraz refers to both archaeological and written evidence, but points out that these do not always point to the same conclusions: although the evidence of written wills might suggest that the Hospitallers were attracting fewer donations in the later Middle Ages, the evidence of burials in commandery cemeteries "would rather tend to suggest the contrary." (125) Like Bagnarini, Carraz draws our attention to local influences on the Orders' architecture, and also emphasises possible monastic influence.

Moving to the eastern Mediterranean, Mathias Piana examines the Templar fortress of Tortosa, which was besieged by Sultan Baybars in the same year that he captured Krak des Chevaliers but which did not surrender to the Mamluks until after the loss of Acre in 1291. Considering the layout of the castle and the chronology of its construction, and drawing on literary evidence from contemporary Arabic sources to complement archaeological evidence, he concludes that the fortress at Tortosa and the Hospitallers’ fortress of Belvoir "show that the military orders were the true promoters of the concentric fortification concept." (171)

The final section of the book begins and ends on the frontiers of Latin Christendom, separated by a study of properties in Italy. The first paper takes us to the eastern Mediterranean with Adrian Boas's overview of the excavations of the Teutonic Order's Montfort Castle, and includes a detailed analysis of the various parts of the castle and its architectural development according to the latest state of research. Regrettably this does not include a plan of the castle, but a detailed study with plans and section drawings is due to be published by Brill in the future. Giulia Rossi Vairo presents a summary of her current research project "Art and Architecture of the Teutonic Order in Italy," in which she is compiling an inventory of the Order's monuments, sites and works of art in Italy. Although many of the Teutonic Order's former properties in Italy no longer exist, many churches, some fortified sites, a commandery hall and a former pilgrim hostel survive, in addition to around twenty other sites which have been altered. The author describes three fortified sites in detail, presents an overview of religious architecture, and compares the Teutonic Order's buildings to the Templars' and Hospitallers' commanderies in Italy. As did the Templars and Hospitallers in Southern France, the Teutonic Order in Italy received donations of buildings for its use and continued to develop its property throughout the Middle Ages: in Italy, all the new buildings date from after the fall of Acre in 1291 when the Italian brothers no longer had to support the Holy Land. Vairo argues that a significant role for these buildings was to communicate and display the Teutonic Order's prestige, power and authority, but that the Order also set out to maintain friendly relations and promote collaboration with the local community.

The final chapter in this volume considers the Teutonic Order's castles in Prussia. Tomasz Torbus points out that interpretations have been distorted by nationalist and other political agendas. He sets out a detailed analysis of these castles based on plan, date and function, and considers some of the scholarly debates on the origin of techniques and materials. He argues for Cistercian influence on the decoration of the castles on the Vistula Lagoon, concludes that the technique of black-fired bricks came to Prussia from Northern Germany and Denmark, not the eastern Mediterranean, leaves open the question of the origin of the stellar vault, and discusses why the "castrum-type" quadrangular castle became the Order's predominant castle-type in Prussia.

As Luttrell points out in his introduction (4) although "these studies make notable progress in the field of the archaeology of the military orders" they do not yet allow us to draw firm conclusions on "whether there was an art, an architecture or an archaeology of the military orders" or "the extent to which the buildings of the different orders showed common features or reflected local influences." A major difficulty in studying the military religious orders is that they owned a very large number of properties, spread across the whole of Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. Some of these properties were in operation from the early twelfth century until the late eighteenth century; a few are still owned by the Order of Malta and the Teutonic Order today. Hence the studies here can reflect only a small fraction of the available evidence: a comprehensive volume should also include studies from the Iberian Peninsula and the Baltic States (on the frontier), and northern France, Germany and central Europe, the Low Countries, Britain and Ireland (distant from the frontier). The individual contributions in this volume focus on individual buildings or regions, rather than attempting to draw general conclusions; such wider conclusions must await further research. Nevertheless these studies reveal that much can be gained by combining the study of archaeology and written sources. They show the close relationship between the military religious orders and their local environment, both the landscape and the people, and that far from being cut off from the societies in which they existed these religious orders were thoroughly integrated within society, interacting on a daily basis with local people and events.

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