The Medieval Review 16.10.16


Carr, Mike. Merchant Crusaders in the Aegean 1291-1352. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2015. pp. 214. $99.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-1-84383-990-3 (hardback).



Reviewed by:


Jeffrey Miner
 Western Kentucky University
jeffrey.miner@wku.edu

This is not a long book. The main text is just under 150 pages and covers an important region and period in the development of the crusades, running from the fall of Acre through the pontificate of Pope Clement VI. The years from 1291 to 1352 in the Aegean sit between two better-known phases in crusading, marking a coda to attempts to resurrect the Latin Empire of Constantinople and a prequel to the rise of the Ottomans and later maritime leagues aimed at the Turks. Carr's picture of the early fourteenth-century Aegean reveals a complex region in which crusade ideas played an important, but never determining role in shaping its political and economic life.

Much of the analysis grows out of Carr's research in the Vatican archives, and the book makes especially interesting use of petitions and supplications to the pope for exemptions from trade embargoes and the relationship of these dispensations to crusading projects. Papal documentation is obviously inadequate on its own, and Merchant Crusaders also draws on a wide variety of other sources, both narrative and otherwise, from Venetian, Byzantine, Genoese, and even Turkish sources. One of the most interesting findings that comes from careful attention to these sources is just how heavily papal ideas and strategies around crusading grew from the periphery (the Aegean) to the center (Avignon), rather than vice versa. Both of the two most significant institutional evolutions he tracks (the emergence of naval leagues and trade licenses as significant parts of papal policy) began in the Aegean and came to the papacy through supplications.

Merchant Crusaders does what it sets out to do: it "analyses crusading against the wider backdrop of trade and conflict in the Aegean where actions were driven by a host of conflicting factors, ranging from papal policy to commercial necessity" (2). It also argues successfully that we should not treat holy war and trade between religious groups as mutually exclusive. Scholars interested in the later crusades, maritime warfare, trade between Christians and Muslims, and the Aegean region will all find interesting food for thought here, though not all of the chapters are well integrated.

Brevity and clarity are virtues of this book, but there are places in which the analysis has not been pushed as far as it could be taken in the future. For example, Carr recognizes that the language of papal privileges, like those granted to Martino Zaccaria (110-11), represents a strategic choice by a petitioner. He also argues that we cannot reduce Zaccaria's pious intentions to a mere self-interested fig leaf. Yet his account of what the privileges actually meant to Zaccaria's later activities is left ambiguous. To clarify how crusading did or did not shape behavior requires taking an additional step: recognizing that discursively framing one's actions in crusading terms to lobby for privileges then had implications for how recipients were to behave afterwards. Claiming the mantle of crusade created the expectation that one would prove the sincerity of one's intentions through appropriate actions. A full understanding of crusade privileges and rhetoric in the Aegean would require exploring, not whether Martino Zaccaria was a "sincere" crusader, but how fully claiming the mantle of crusading shaped his actions, as well as those of others who donned it.

The concept of the "merchant crusader" is a useful one for Carr's historiographic purposes, to push scholars to take the crusading commitments and motivations of the Italian maritime republics more seriously (2, 5-6). Yet its capaciousness also glosses over some ambiguities that deserve further thought. The best examples of the "merchant crusader" phenomenon were independent princelings, like the Zaccaria, rather than subjects of the Genoese or Venetian communes. Venice, for example, may have petitioned for licenses and exemptions for trade, but could point to no specific crusading venture to justify the petitions (123-27). Attempts to spread the phenomenon of the naval league also died when warfare between Genoa and Venice re-kindled in the mid-fourteenth century. One wonders how Carr would explain the fact that papal promotion of crusading in the Aegean simultaneously appealed to some yet ultimately failed to successfully organize Latin political order, without having recourse to characterizing the Italians as cynical materialists only interested in profit (an approach he rightly rejects).

Chapter One, "The Splintered Aegean World," provides a nice summary of the political fragmentation of the Aegean in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century, which is critical to understanding how crusading both did and did not shape the region. This chapter is also important for tracing the changing attitudes of the papacy toward Byzantium, which is essential context for understanding how crusading against Turks came gradually to displace crusade against Greeks in this region.

Chapter Two, "A New Enemy: The Emergence of the Turks as a 'Target' of Crusade," turns to representations of the Turks in literature, exploring shifting perceptions of the Turks in the Latin west. Over time, westerners show a rising level of familiarity with the Turks and their various sub-groups, showing both improved knowledge and rising interest. This rising familiarity saw both an upswing in anti-Turkish rhetoric, but also portrayal of some Turks, such as Umur Pasha/Morbassant (61-2), in a positive light, deploying them as a rhetorical foil to castigate the sins and shortcomings of Latin Christians. The Council of Vienne (1311-12) was a pivotal moment for the dissemination of images of the Turks in the west, as it provided an international audience for Hospitaller appeals for aid against the Turks.

Chapter Three, "Latin Response to the Turks: The Naval Leagues," narrates the evolution of the idea of a naval league and discusses the leagues formed in 1333-4 and 1343-52. Over a period of decades, Carr demonstrates, naval leagues evolved out of temporary alliances between small players in the fragmented Aegean world, in which neither Turkish nor Latin powers were capable of presenting a united front to their religious rivals.

Chapter Four, "Logistics and Strategies," is the shortest in the volume and discusses the practicalities of maritime warfare in the Aegean. It is a clear summary of the state of our knowledge about how maritime warfare was organized and prosecuted. Carr argues that warfare in the early fourteenth-century Aegean was largely asymmetric. The Turks seem to have been engaged in expeditions that were aimed at economic terrorism (raiding, pillaging, enslavement) while the Latins launched fleets intended to conduct warfare at sea, seeking to attack and destroy the Turkish raiders.

Chapter Five, "The Papacy and the Naval Leagues," traces the evolving relationship between the papacy and the various naval leagues of the Adriatic. Under John XXII (1316-34), the papacy was largely reactive, granting specific and limited spiritual rewards in response to petitions from various Latin figures in the Aegean, and only belatedly becoming involved in a naval league in 1333-4 which had already been planned and enacted by the Venetians. Clement VI (1342-52), by contrast, was much more actively involved, deployed the full range of papal crusade tools (preaching, tithes, indulgence), all of which culminated in the Crusades of Smyrna (1343-51). Clement's activity notwithstanding, the popes here emerge basically as followers rather than leaders in Adriatic crusading, joining their attention and resources to projects and practices developed regionally.

Chapter Six, "Cross-Cultural Trade in the Aegean and Economic Mechanisms for Merchant Crusaders," explores the co-evolution of crusade practice and thinking regarding trade. This chapter explores the way trade licenses came to play an increasingly prominent role in papal crusade initiatives in the Aegean. Over time, popes (especially Clement VI) became more and more willing to grant specific exemptions to the papal embargo on trade with Egypt in order to sustain Latin forces in the Aegean. Here too, change in papal policy began regionally, with papal allies like Martino Zaccaria, who used the Turkish threat and expenses of warfare to petition for exemptions from the papal embargo on trade with Egypt. Carr argues that, as the practice of granting licenses and exemptions became repeated and codified, trade with the Muslim world and holy war came to be seen by the papacy as compatible and potentially mutually reinforcing, rather than necessarily contradictory.



Copyright (c) 2016 Jeffrey Miner



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