The Medieval Review 16.11.09

Roche, Jason T., and Janus Møller Jensen, eds. The Second Crusade: Holy War on the Periphery of Latin Christendom . Outremer. Studies in the Crusades and the Latin East, 2. Turnhout: Brepols, 2015. pp. xii, 338. €86.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-2-503-52327-9 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Miguel Gomez
University of Dayton

Right from its subtitle, Holy War on the Periphery of Latin Christendom, this dense collection of essays, edited by Jason T. Roche and Janus Møller Jensen, signals its focus on an important recent debate about our understanding of the crusades in the twelfth century. This central historiographical issue stems from the work of Giles Constable, and after him Jonathan Phillips, that has argued for an expanded conception of the Second Crusade to include not just the campaign to the Eastern Mediterranean, but also campaigns in the Iberian peninsula and in the Baltic. This expanded view of the Crusade, or at least the way we should understand it, has been challenged, most notably by Alan Forey. [1] Most of the contributors to this volume enter into this debate; some (such as Jay Lees, Luis García-Guijarro, and Susan Edington) directly engage the question of whether or not the "peripheral" campaigns should be included in our understanding of the Second Crusade, while others (such as Ane Bysted and Deborah Gerish) only do so tangentially, focusing instead on other details of the Second Crusade.

Despite the fact that every article does not address it, Roche, in his introduction, keeps the focus of the book on the question of crusade at the "Frontiers of Christendom." The debate lies right at the heart of contemporary crusade-studies historiography. Growing out of old definitional debates which led to the awkward but useful designations "traditionalist" and "pluralist" conceptions of crusading, more recent research has tended to ask how (rather than whether) campaigns directed towards projects other than the Holy Land should be understood in the context of crusading. In the case of the Second Crusade, the central question seems to be whether or not the campaigns in the Baltic and the Iberian peninsula should be regarded as part of a broad effort to expand and defend Christendom, as later medieval historians came to see them, or rather as a process in which the papacy was simply approving "particular schemes" (4) in a reactive or opportunistic way. Roche correctly notes that Rome did indeed act opportunistically to incorporate the northern and Iberian frontiers into the crusade, but argues that the incorporation was only possible because they all fit Eugenius III's vision of holy war. Despite deploying an overly literal interpretation of the pluralist definition of crusade (which he argues "finds little favor in this volume" (30), Roche indeed situates the volume historiographically very much in the pluralist camp, and establishes that the various frontiers of Latin Europe can be examined within the context of the Second Crusade. Most, but not all, of the articles which follow his introduction adhere to this examination of crusade "on the periphery."

Ane Bysted's "The True Year of Jubilee: Bernard of Clairvaux on Crusade and Indulgences" appropriately opens the first section of the volume ("The Second Crusade and Holy Way"), as its focus is upon the preaching and recruitment strategies of the Church, rather than on any one theater of the crusade. This very useful article looks at the letters of Bernard of Clairvaux, and examines the nature of the spiritual benefits offered to participants in the Second Crusade. Bysted in particular focuses Bernard's linking of the "year of jubilee" to the crusade, an innovative idea at the time. By tying the crusade to a divinely-appointed period for getting right with God, Bernard was working to avoid the problem of self-salvation, a theologically unacceptable position that might grow out of the idea that a crusader's efforts on campaign could wipe away sin. Bernard's deployment of the jubilee helped establish the idea that the crusade was a moment, offered by God, during which the crusader could take advantage of to make his penance. This idea would be reused over and over by subsequent popes and crusade preachers.

Deborah Gerish's article continues the broad focus of the first part of the book, turning to the subject of royal identity in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This very lengthy study focuses on the Historia Nicaena vel Antiochena of the mid-twelfth century, which, Gerish points out, slightly predates the Second Crusade. Nevertheless, she relies on the Historia because of the lack of sources from the Kingdom of Jerusalem contemporary with the Second Crusade. After a circuitous examination of the sources and goals of the unknown author of the Historia, Gerish concludes that the source does not do much to establish an image of the rulers of the Holy Land during the middle of the twelfth century.

The third article in the volume stands out as the only one directly engaged with Islamic sources. Suleiman A. Mourad and James E. Lindsay discuss the impact of the Second Crusade on the Muslim world, focusing on the work of Ibn ʿAsākir. Writing in response to the Christian attack on Damascus, IbnʿAsākir became an influential supporter of Nūr al-Dīn as a champion of Sunni unification, and a promoter of jihad ideology as a counter to the crusade. This examination of the promotion of Islamic holy war in the context of the Second Crusade works particularly well alongside Bysted's (and perhaps Gerish's as well) study of Christian conceptions of Holy War.

These three initial contributions, grouped together due to their focus on ideology and theology, rather than particular parts of the Second Crusade itself, are followed by a group of three articles collected under the heading "Peripheral Impact and the March towards the Holy Land." As the heading suggests, the articles in this section address, more directly than their predecessors, the central historiographical issue of crusade at the "periphery" of Christian Europe. The first, Darius von Güttner-Sporzyński's "Poland and the Second Crusade," grows out of the author's important work on crusade and the Piast dynasty. Despite the limitations of some of his sources, Güttner-Sporzyński demonstrates that the Polish royal family's participation in the Second Crusade fit neatly into their pattern of using crusade, and the ensuing ties to Rome, as part of their state-building strategy.

Co-editor Janus Møller Jensen's study of the response to the Second Crusade in the North Atlantic builds nicely on the previous article, demonstrating that the Norse, from Iceland to Norway, were already well-versed in crusade ideology by the middle of the twelfth century, and were thus prepared to participate in the crusade, citing the 1151 expedition of a combined Norse fleet that set sail for the Holy Land from the Orkney Isles. Deftly handling the limited sources, Jensen also demonstrates that the political actors of the region recognized and exploited the advantage that participation in prestigious international projects, like the crusade, as well as the promotion of the ideology of holy war, might give to them.

The third and final article in this section is co-editor Jason T. Roche's study of Conrad III's time in Constantinople during the Second Crusade, and the negative portrayal of the German march through the Empire. Placing this traditional portrayal of Greek-German hostility in the context of Byzantine imperial propaganda, Roche argues that the enduring Komenoi-Hohenstaufen alliance suggests that the negative accounts of the German Emperor's visit to the East are at the very least overblown. Unfortunately, the article does not really fit with the previous two pieces in the section, as Constantinople can hardly be considered a peripheral part of the Christian world. Nevertheless, the value of the study is not diminished by the awkward editorial necessities that come with constructing such a volume as this.

The four articles of the final section of the book, "Expanding the Frontiers," all directly address the main historiographical question posed in the introduction, and form a strong conclusion. The first, by Luis García-Guijarro, introduces the Iberian aspects of the Second Crusade, though perhaps skeptically. Examining the long term strategic goals of the rulers of Aragón and Cataluña in the Ebro valley, García-Guijarro argues that local political concerns were far more important than the Pope's call to crusade in explaining the conquest of Tortosa in 1148. Leaning heavily on the old Spanish historiographical tradition of Reconquista, the author argues that enthusiasm for crusading was essentially just a "useful expedient" (224), and that the focus for understanding the conquests of the 1140s, and indeed all Iberian military events that have been associated with the crusade, should be on the local context. While García-Guijarro is certainly right to argue that the local political context is important, he very much overstates the case, to the point of largely dismissing the influence of the papacy and its crusading ventures. As many of the other contributors to the volume demonstrate, papal crusading projects were most successful when they dovetailed with the goals of local rulers. This was a strength of the crusade, not a basis to dismiss it as an irrelevant factor in Iberian history.

The Iberian focus continues with Susan Edgington's "The Capture of Lisbon: Premeditated or Opportunistic?". Here, the author directly engages with the work of Jonathan Phillips, who has suggested that perhaps the fleet of northern crusaders who helped the Portuguese capture Lisbon in 1147 planned to do so before departure. Edgington succinctly summarizes the sources and clearly argues that the campaign was essentially opportunistic. King Afonso Henriques likely had forewarning that the crusaders' fleet was headed towards Portugal, and moved decisively to recruit their help; however, it seems equally clear that the northern crusaders did not have any preconceived plan to fight in Portugal and were indeed headed towards the Holy Land.

Lamentably, the Iberian aspects of the Second Crusade receive no further treatment, and the focus shifts again to the north with a terrific examination of the Wendish crusade of 1147 by Jay T. Lees. Focusing on the various leaders of this polyglot military effort, Lees demonstrates that many of them were motivated to join the campaign in order to protect their political interests in this eastern frontier region. Competing secular and ecclesiastical interests, desire for conquest, and reluctance to participate in the German campaign to the Holy Land all helped bring about support for the Wendish campaign. Bernard of Clairvaux worked to appeal to the diverse interests of the possible participants, and attempted to fuse them together with the ideology of crusade against recalcitrant pagans. That many of the Slavic people living in the targeted region were already Christian was but one of the factors that led to the failure of the campaign to achieve any of the various goals of its leaders. Lees very successfully shows how the promotion of the crusade by Bernard and the local concerns of the would-be crusade leaders worked (or did not work) in concert to bring about this episode in the Second Crusade.

The last article of the volume is John H. Lind's examination of the possible Second Crusade context of the "First Swedish Crusade" into Finland. Working with very thin sources, Lind posits that the beginning of Swedish campaigns against the pagan Finns, which were by the later decades of the twelfth century incorporated by the papacy into the northern crusading efforts, may have begun with the launch of the Second Crusade and the effort in the 1140s to promote the Wendish campaign. Though this connection is entirely speculative, Lind nevertheless demonstrates that the ideology of the northern crusades very much begins with Eugenius III and Bernard of Clairvaux, and their promotion of campaigns against the pagans. The Swedish crusade tradition owes at very least its ideological origin to the Second Crusade.

Like all volumes of this nature, The Second Crusade: Holy War at the Periphery of Latin Christendom is likely to be of greatest utility as a vehicle for the several particularly strong articles on diverse topics it contains. But despite the fact that the articles do not all work together perfectly (an inevitable outcome of such a project), the editors have done an admirable job at wrangling them into a coherent framework. The historiographical focus on "peripheral" campaigns, and how they should be understood, does emerge as a unifying theme, and future research on the Second Crusade will certainly build on many of the contributions here. One might have hoped for a greater balance of articles focusing on the various theaters of the Crusade (four on the Northern Europe versus two on Iberia), but of course such perfect balance is nearly impossible to achieve in volumes such as this. One might also argue with the perpetuation of the center/periphery model around which the entire book is framed. The combined effect of the studies collected here demonstrates that crusading was a broad phenomenon, promoted by the papacy to all corners of Europe, and seized upon by Christians everywhere. Indeed, it is very clear that Eugenius III and Bernard of Clairvaux were reacting to initiatives taken at the "periphery" as much as they were disseminating ideas from the "center." The cumulative effect of the research presented in this book, alongside that of Phillips and other scholars of the Second Crusade, should perhaps put to rest the center/periphery approach to the study of the crusades.



1. Giles Constable, "The Second Crusade as Seen by Contemporaries," Traditio 9 (1953): 213-279; Jonathan Phillips, The Second Crusade: Extending the Frontiers of Christendom (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007); Alan Forey, "The Second Crusade: Scope and Objectives," Durham University Journal 86 (1994):165-172.

Copyright (c) 2016 Miguel Gomez

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