16.02.44, O'Doherty and Schmieder, eds., Travels and Mobilities in the Middle Ages

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Sharon Kinoshita

The Medieval Review 16.02.44

O'Doherty, Marianne and Felicitas Schmieder, eds. Travels and Mobilities in the Middle Ages: From the Atlantic to the Black Sea. International Medieval Research, 21. Turnhout: Brepols, 2015. pp. xliii, 342. ISBN: 978-2-503-55449-5 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Sharon Kinoshita
University of California, Santa Cruz

This volume comprises thirteen essays drawn from the 2010 International Medieval Congress at Leeds, devoted to the theme of Travel and Exploration. The first thing one notices is the refreshing absence of Usual Suspects: no William of Rubruck, no Marco Polo, no John Mandeville, no Margery Kempe, no pilgrims, and no long-distance merchants. Rather, the editors intentionally set out to showcase diversity: to shift our focus away from exceptional and well-known figures toward "the harder to reconstruct and less extensively studied journeys of a variety of individuals and groups of higher and lower status." In particular, the contributions set out to reconsider "geographical mobility as embedded in all sorts of social, cultural, religious, and political contexts" (xv). Thus alongside the movements of royal figures like King Stephen of England (Hosler) or Yolande of Aragon (Rohr), the collection explores the importance of mobility to groups such as Scandinavian mendicants (Jakobsen), the German Order (Fischer), mercenaries (Rüther), students (Schuh), and the disabled (Metzler). Areas covered include Scandinavian (Jakobsen, Nordeide), German (Fischer, Rüther, Schuh), Slavic (Kekez, Jakus) lands.

Part I is entitled "Centers and Peripheries: Travellers to and on the Margins." The first essay, Johnny Grandjean Gøgsig Jacobsen's "'Them Friars Dash About': Mendicant Terminario in Medieval Scandinavia," describes this little known practice (institutionalized around the third quarter of the thirteenth century) whereby mendicant friars--generally associated with cities--circulated in rural, often sparsely-populated areas, preaching and collecting alms within boundaries assigned to their particular convent. By focusing primarily on Dominican terminarii in Scandinavia, Jacobsen finds that these itinerant mendicants often lodged with local priests or rural gentry; sometimes fulfilled additional functions (such as hearing confession or performing baptisms); ran afoul of parish priests less often than one might expect; did sometimes come into conflict with their counterparts from other convents (likely from economic competition over alms, especially in lucrative food-producing areas). Though their alms-collecting leaves few traces of discontent in contemporary records, it became a key target of Lutheran criticism during the Reformation.

Sæbjørg Walaker Nordeide's "Papal Delegations to the Edge of the World: Visits from the Papal Curia to Norway Between 1050 and 1536" examines foreign travelers to the far north. The subtitle is misleading, for the article focuses on two delegations: one in 1152-54 by Cardinal Nicholas Breakspear (the future Pope Adrian IV) and the second in 1327 by two delegates sent to collect a crusading tax. Breakspear, sent to establish an archbishopric at Trondheim (in a visit favorably recalled several decades later in Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla) would have found a cold land largely devoid of stone structures, though for him Scandinavian cultural difference (climate, language, and customs) may have been mitigated by his English origins. A century and three-quarters later, the 1327 delegates would have found the institutional landscape (exemplified by the Dominican monastery of St Olav in Oslo) more familiar but were less successful in their mission.

Iona McCleery's "From the Edge of Europe to Global Empire: Portuguese Medicine Abroad" uses the travel accounts of two "Portuguese" medical practitioners to problematize a number of modern assumptions (about nations, empires, metropole-colony relations) and remedy a number of exclusions (of Portuguese examples from the historiography of travel; of medieval examples from this history of medicine). The first text is by Diego Álvarez Chanca, a physician from Seville who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage in 1493, and whose letter documents the (purported) cannibalism of the inhabitants of Hispaniola. The second is the Itinerario of Master Afonso, a surgeon who wrote about a homeward journey from India to Portugal in a narrative dedicated to King Sebastian. Unfortunately, the author's theoretical interventions become the (polemical) tail wagging the (textual) dog. Her points are well-meant but not always convincingly argued, as where she repeatedly supplies direct quotations of Afonso's enthusiasm for Middle Eastern fruit but gives none to support her contention that his description of the plague ravaging the area between Tabriz and Aleppo is "part of a deliberate attempt to produce negative knowledge out the Ottomans" (68-69).

In "Have Crutch, Will Travel: Disabled People on the Move in Medieval Europe," Irina Metzler sets out to challenge the absence of disabled travelers and disability in the historiography of travel. For obvious reasons, miracle stories of disabled pilgrims visiting healing shrines constitute a prime source--supplemented by manuscript illuminations and even description of votive offerings. Since pilgrims typically traveled on foot, how did the physically disabled travel? Often carried in baskets or on litters, on beasts of burden, by cart or even in wheelbarrows. Closer to home, for everyday mobility they resorted to crutches, hand-trestles, wheeled platforms, walkers; they crawled, or were supported by others. The blind or visually impaired employed guides--typically a young boy. Blindness, Metzler notes, was not considered an illness, and she does not discuss other types of disability, such as deafness or mental impairment. She closes with the salutary reminder that, then as now, "personal mobility was a social issue" (113)--the capacity for achieving mobility despite disability being largely influenced by wealth and class.

Part II, "Nobility of the Road: Travel and Status," comprises three essays. In "Why Didn't King Stephen Crusade?," John D. Hosler rejects the usual interpretation that the English king was too embroiled in the civil war against Empress Mathilda. Rather, despite the strong family tradition of crusading both on the part of Stephen's house of Blois and, especially, the lineage of his wife, Mathilda of Boulogne, the king (who never took a crusading vow) was taken up with other affairs, including the deposition of the archbishop of York, William Fitz Herbert, and the revolt of Ranulf de Glanville, both unfolding in 1146-1147 as English participation in the Second Crusade was being organized.

"The Travels of Ivan Babonić: The Mobility of Slavonian Noblemen in the Fourteenth Century" by Hrvoje Kekez reconstructs the movements of a member of the kingdom's leading noble family. The frequency and destinations of Lord Ivan's travel shift over time in response to changes in his family's role in the turbulent politics of the day, including the Angevin prince Charles Robert's disputed accession to the throne of Hungary; the favor and then loss of favor of the Babonić clan vis-à-vis the Hungarian king; marriage alliances; and their overtures to the Habsburg dukes of Austria. Kekez concludes that short-distance and duration were often connected with the family's legal, economic, or religious interests; longer distance travel was connected with wider regional politics and military activity, which might result in advantageous alliances even when the military campaign in question was a failure.

In "The Perfect Gentle Knight: Fourteenth-Century Crusaders in Prussia," Mary Fischer examines the Chronicle of Prussia, commissioned by the grand masters of the German (Teutonic) order, to understand how the crusade against Prussia and Lithuania became so popular with knights from all over Latin Europe over the course of the fourteenth century. Focusing on the vernacular translation of the Latin chronicle (1326-1331) presumably intended for a lay audience, she shows how (after the 1291 fall of the Crusader kingdom of Acre) it constructs Prussia--a land with no holy sites--as a site of crusade/pilgrimage by mobilizing tropes from pilgrimage and biblical literature, and from the courtly/chivalric tradition. Though the diffusion of the chronicle itself is uncertain, the ethos it constructs helps explain the Northern Crusade's popularity by century's end.

Part III, "Men and Women on the Move: Gendered Mobilities," contains three essays. Stefanie Rüther's "Dangerous Travellers: Identity, Profession, and Gender Among the German Landknechts (1450-1570)" examines songs, autobiographical writings and woodcuts to elucidate the gendered (self-) representations of these famous late medieval mercenaries. Despite their rhetoric of equality among "brothers," landknechts came from diverse social strata, which affected the positions they attained within the order. Since physical mobility precluded the kind of standing that came with property and family, they cultivated "an alternative male role model" (208) that, in their songs in particular, celebrated aspects of their peripatetic life, including plunder, sexual prowess, bravado.

Zita Rohr's "On the Road Again: The Semi-Nomadic Career of Yolande of Aragon (1400-1439)" begins with the claim that the itinerant rulership of Yolande and her husband, Louis II of Anjou, represents the importation of an Iberian model practiced nowhere else in Europe by the late Middle Ages; this is intertwined with a related claim that Yolande is drawing on an Iberian model of queenship. Most of the essay, however, is devoted to charting Yolande's physical and political moves. Clearer exposition of the complex politics surrounding Louis of Anjou and greater attention to relative chronology would have helped transform this mass of data into a more coherent narrative.

Maximilian Schuh's "Student Mobilities and Masculinities: The Case of the Empire North of the Alps in the Fifteenth Century" addresses historiographical debates around social differences among students at a moment when the proliferation of universities had rapidly expanded their number. He focuses primarily on Ingolstadt--one of the new institutions that tended to draw from a regional constituency (meaning lower travel expenses and the possibility of maintaining familial and other local ties). Using Rainer Christoph Schwinges' taxonomy of five types of students, Schuh finds simple scholars, bachelors, and masters of arts (groups 1-3) often involved in tavern-based activities: drinking, gambling, fighting, and dealings with prostitutes. Scholars of theology, law, and medicine (group 4), often holding church benefices requiring celibacy, cultivated substitute families via patronage, looked out for their illegitimate sons, and invested in books as a mobile form of property. Noble students (group 5) maintained the habits of their class (bearing weapons, having servants) and were more likely to move into the international sphere of the great law schools of Bologna, Pavia, or Padua.

The concluding section, Part IV, is devoted to "Migration and Return: Peoples and Objects on the Move." Zrinka Nicolić Jakus' "Slavs but Not Slaves" charts the presence of Southern Slavs in Southern Italy, starting with the 642 invasion of the Gargano peninsula (mentioned by Paul the Deacon nearly 150 years later) and including the conquest of Siponto, on the same peninsula, by Michael Višević (who alternated allegiances between the Byzantines and the Bulgarians) in 926. Documents from a nearby monastery suggest some Slavic settlements on Gargano, dating from a Venetian expedition of c. 1000. Though the area fell to the Normans in 1054 and the Slavic population (originally from the nearby island of Lastovo) seems to have assimilated by the end of the twelfth century, it left traces on local personal and place names, legal customs, and vocabulary.

Following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, many decorative objects from the churches of the Genoese district of Pera were transported (some via Chios) to Genoa by individuals, families, or religious orders. Rafał Quirini-Popławski's "Ex partibus orientalis translate ad hanc urbem: The Evacuation of Elements of Church Decoration from Pera to Genoa in 1461" describes the circumstances of these translations and catalogues the items received by sixteen different monastic churches--many of them relatively recent (c. late fourteenth century). Though in the intervening centuries most of the items have gone astray, contemporary documents offer tantalizing or revealing descriptions (silk vestments with coats-of-arms of prominent Genoese families; several objects with Greek script, etc.) that provide clues as to the accoutrements of the churches of pre-conquest Pera.

Gemma L. Watson's "A Herald and His Objects in Exile" uses the memorandum book of Roger Machado to explore his movements before he became Henry VII's herald. Machado, Watson reveals, previously served as herald to the Yorkist kings Edward IV, Edward V, and Richard III but disappears from England from late 1483 to 1485. An inventory of his goods (including linen, tableware, and clothing but no furniture) suggests he was going into exile--a result, Watson speculates, of his involvement in the failed Buckingham Rebellion against Richard III. In 1484-85, presumably to support himself in exile, he trafficked in Portuguese wine (he himself was Portuguese) and luxury cloth, perhaps through connection trade connections developed through living in the port of Southampton. His memorandum book records contact with multiple names whom Watson identifies as prominent Lancastrians. Machado's pre-1485 connections with the Lancastrian cause explain the favor and titles later granted him by Henry VII. This essay stands out as an intriguing piece of historical detective work and reveals the international career and multiple activities of this late medieval figure.

As refreshing as the attention to lesser-known actors from the peripheries of Latin Christendom may be, many if not most of the articles in this collection remain rather narrowly focused, elucidating the data found in their respective archives in a way that foregrounds travel, often with reference to [gaps in] previous historiography of the topic. In these largely regional studies, some comparative references to other parts of Latin Europe would have provided some welcome context. The relevance of the book's subdivisions is not always clear, particularly in Part III, where the treatment of gender seems either forced or superficial. Collectively, however, the essays in this volume do convincingly challenge "the caricature of general stasis punctuated by the occasional exception individual or movement" (xiii) and succeed in demonstrating the embeddedness of medieval mobility in a broad range of social, cultural, religious, and political contexts.

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