The Medieval Review 17.02.15

Duba, William O., and Christopher D. Schabel, eds. Bullarium Hellenicum: Pope Honorius III's Letters to Frankish Greece and Constantinople. Mediterranean Nexus 1100-1700, 3. Turnhout: Brepols, 2015. pp. 612. $125.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-2-503-55464-8 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

John Joseph Giebfried
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The Bullarium Hellenicum is the final part of a trilogy collecting together all the diplomatic correspondence between Pope Honorius III and the crusader-states of the Eastern Mediterranean. In 2010, Christopher Schabel published the Bullarium Cyprium: Papal Letters concerning Cyprus. This two-volume book edits the complete correspondence of the papacy regarding Cyprus from 1196 to 1314, including 76 letters by Honorius III. Next, Pierre-Vincent Claverie's Honorius III et l'Orient (1216-1227), for which Schabel provided the preface, was published in 2013. That text is divided into two parts. The first 270 pages are a detailed history of Honorius and the Latin East. The second part, entitled the Bullarium Terrae Sanctae, reproduces the correspondence between Honorius and both the Levantine crusader-states and the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia, a total of 150 letters. Now, completing the trilogy is the Bullarium Hellenicum, co-edited once again by Schabel alongside Bill Duba. This work collects and edits a corpus of 277 letters written by Honorius III concerning Frankish Greece and Constantinople. This is a massive task, larger in scale than the previous two parts combined. The authors rightfully deserve praise for doing this. However, the text they produced is unusual, to say the least. The authors make clear who the market for this book is: specialists in Byzantine and crusading history whose Latin may not be the best. If you fall into this category, the book is most clearly set up for you.

Structurally, the book is divided into three parts: an introductory historical essay entitled "Pope Honorius III (1216-1227) and Romania," then notes on the edition, and finally the documents. I will consider the essay first and then turn to the documents and the associated notes. First, I must advise readers that the introductory section is not for novices in the history and historiography of the Latin Aegean or of the papacy of Honorius III. The essay's title itself is a bit of a warning for the obscurity of the text, as the term "Romania" (a medieval name for the Byzantine sphere of influence, and not the modern country) may cause confusion for non-specialists. One might expect this section to open with a history of the Fourth Crusade and the establishment of Frankish Greece and then continue on to give a biography of Honorius III and give an overview of his papacy. Instead the opening rambles on about the importance of papal letters as a historical source and the relationship between the three studies mentioned above, and then launches into a rather arcane and general overview of the state of Frankish Greece at the ascension of Honorius in 1216. There is no explanatory history of the Fourth Crusade, and the biography of Honorius runs for two sentences. After the helter-skelter introduction, there is a section which could have been a thirty-page journal article on the policies of Honorius III toward Frankish Greece and Constantinople and what they tell us about Greco-Latin ecclesiastical relations. Here the authors make use of the documents they have edited to explore Honorius' correspondence with the secular leaders in Constantinople and Thessalonica, the Latin patriarch in Constantinople, the Latin bishops and archbishops, and the monasteries. Using these letters, they question the nationalist Latin vs. Greek narrative so dominant in the historiography of the period, where "evil" Latins come in and oppress a unified homogenous group already known as "Greeks." Schabel and Duba instead show that Honorius' policies had much more to do with religious observance than ethnicity. They argue that Honorius' policy towards the Greeks can be divided up into three categories based on religious observance. For the first category--obedient Greeks living under Latin rule--Honorius was very supportive. For instance, he took Greek monasteries under his personal protection and allowed Greek monks to avoid paying tithes, as it went against their traditions. For the second category--disobedient Greeks living under Latin rule--he supported giving them chances to reform and mend their ways. But for the third group--the schismatic Greeks living outside Latin rule--they were the pope's enemies and a worthwhile target for crusading. Honorius firmly believed that God transferred the Byzantine empire to Latin rule because of the Byzantine sin of schism and that Latin rule and a new crusade were needed to end that schism.

In some ways, I understand why the authors wrote their introduction this way. An authoritative history of Honorius and the East has already been written by Claverie, who includes a lengthy examination of events in the Aegean. I can see why Schabel and Duba would not want to duplicate his work. Instead, for those who have read Claverie's book, this section can be seen as a historiographical supplement based on new documents. Nevertheless, it would have been best to warn readers explicitly about the aims of this opening section, because this essay will confound and overwhelm students and scholars wanting a bare-bones historical introduction more than it will help them.

After this introductory essay, the authors turn to an overview of the edition. Overall the tone of the introduction came across as a bit defensive, mostly due to the fact that none of the 277 papal letters published here are entirely new. All of them have been published before and 55% of them are published in full elsewhere. However, what these editors are at pains to point out is that the other 45% have not previously been published in full and that in their work they discovered significant errors in the editions of several letters and one so-called "phantom letter" which they determine is a forgery.

The most striking feature of this collection is how the letters are introduced. Generally speaking, editors tend to either keep their summaries of the Latin text brief, generally one or two sentences, just as Claverie does in his Bullarium Terrae Sanctae. Other editors include full translations. In this book, Schabel and Duba attempt a middle ground: their summaries are extensive paraphrases of the Latin text. Their stated reason for doing so is because they want scholars of Frankish Greece whose Latin is not good enough to read papal diplomatics, which admittedly can prove trickier than most, to be able to understand these documents. However, because of the formulaic nature of the letters and the scale of the project, they opted to avoid a full translation of all the documents. It is an unconventional solution and I admit it is odd to see letter summaries that run to multiple pages in length. Yet I agree with the authors that it is supremely valuable, even for those whose Latin is above average.

Despite its unorthodox nature, this book is extremely useful to the small array of specialists like myself toward whom it is marketed. In fact, the authors say they hope this work will be part of a larger collection of editions of papal diplomatics regarding the Latin Aegean. This would be a very valuable project, because while Honorius III has the least well-edited registers of the thirteenth-century popes, the registers of Gregory IX, Innocent IV, Alexander IV, and Urban IV are, according to Schabel and Duba, not complete either. Nevertheless, despite its specialist bent, let me make my pitch to non-specialists to take a look at this book. I think this is the perfect book to give to an eager graduate student interested in Byzantium, the crusades or the papacy, who wants a taste doing research in Latin, but could use the crutch of an extended summary.

The question that this book leaves with me is this: am I seeing a future middle path for editions of Latin documents, or is this a one-off abnormality? I suspect that it is the latter, but I think that extended summaries are very useful and timesaving for those of all levels of Latin learning. I understand that a full translation is more prestigious and looks more professional; however, because it is also exceptionally repetitive and time-consuming and since it takes up so many pages, I can also understand why it is rarely done for charters and diplomatics. I think Schabel and Duba have hit on a way to convey most of the benefits of a translation, without the extra effort on their part and the extra pages on the publisher's part. I would recommend others follow their lead, but I suspect tradition is too strong for others to do so. It is something to ponder, however, at least until our future robot overlords perfect their translation algorithms and put Schabel and all other human editors and translators out of work.

Copyright (c) 2017 John Joseph Giebfried

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