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22.06.22 Srodecki/Kersken (eds.), The Expansion of the Faith

22.06.22 Srodecki/Kersken (eds.), The Expansion of the Faith

Academic study of the Crusades has generally started to try and reexamine the definition and scope of what a crusade actually is beyond the “traditional” or “classical” definition of the term which has a clear focus on the Holy Land between the dates 1095 and 1291. People like Jonathan Riley-Smith and Paul Chevedden have strongly advocated for “pluralist” or “new creationist” views. In this mindset, the aim has been to explore the crusading idea as it developed during the medieval period and to explore all the areas into which this idea was applied during this same time, not just Jerusalem and the Levant. Hence, there is crusading on the periphery, places beyond Middle East where these crusading ideas were used, including Eastern and Central Europe, Iberia, Scandinavia, and beyond. However, Paul Srodecki is right to point out in his introductory essay, “Crusading on the Periphery in the High Middle Ages: Main Debates, New Approaches,” that several academic books, some within the last few years, portray themselves as overviews of the Crusades but still adhere to the traditional focus on the Holy Land. This collection of essays, The Expansion of the Faith: Crusading on the Frontiers of Latin Christendom in the High Middle Ages, serves as a timely reminder of the development of the crusading idea and the variety of spheres in which it was utilized.

The first section of the book on “Adaptation and Rejection” has a clear focus on the “new creationist” view of the Crusades as it traces the development of the crusading idea in Eastern Europe. Zdzisław Pentek explores why there was a lack of participation in the Crusades to the Levant. He correctly notes that the “brevity of the information in the annals...bears witness to the low level of crusader propaganda” (59). However, this does not mean that there was no interest. The paper clearly outlines examples of those from Eastern Europe who can be clearly stated as having travelled to Jerusalem, either as part of a crusade or as a pilgrim, and culminates in setting out the use of crusading rhetoric and ideas to support expansionist policy in Poland and Hungary. The second paper by Darius von Güttner-Sporzyński follows this theme of the expansion of the idea of the Crusade with a specific focus upon Poland under the Piast dynasty from 1100 to 1147. He argues that the use of crusading rhetoric and militarized language of the Church was used by the Piast dynasty to support its conquest of Pomerania under Boleslas III and increased subsequent participation in crusades by the next generation of the Piast dynasty. He outlines the connections to the Hohenstaufen dynasty and participation in the Second Crusade but the main focus is on the Wendish Crusade and the expedition to Prussia in 1147. These latter two, the paper suggests, can be seen as side branches of the main Second Crusade, gaining papal approval for the expeditions and effectively adopting crusading rhetoric with a tone of general anti-paganism. The fact that the youngest member of this generation of Piasts also did travel to Poland and found a Hospitaller commander in Zagość clearly shows this theme of an increased interest in the Crusades (87). The last paper in this section by Neven Budak is focused on Dalmatia and Croatia but is very blunt in stating “we know next to nothing about Hungarian and Croatian knights in the Holy Land” (88). He briefly outlines this region’s negative experience during the Fourth Crusade and the siege of Zadar by the crusaders, along with Andrew II’s failed participation in the Fifth Crusade. There is a brief reference to the legacy of the Crusade in these regions with legends of failed crusades and the use of the crusade idea as a pretext to assert Hungarian control over Bosnia. This final paper does remind readers about the abuses of the crusade idea and the problems that this rhetoric can impose, even if we are lacking detailed accounts for these regions.

The theme of the second section is “Conviction and Violence”; it is also geographically focused on the Baltic and Eastern Europe. Kurt Villads Jensen provides a compelling discussion of the obsession of crusaders and missionaries, outlining how they were depicted and used to support the crusading idea around the Baltic. Norbert Kersken explores the development of the idea of the Crusade and propaganda during the Wendish Crusade and Piast conquest of Pomerania. In particular, he provides a clear discussion of the interpretation of the preaching of Bernard of Clairvaux and the conflicting aims of integration and annihilation. The theme of power relations in the Baltic is explored by Kristjan Kaljusaar using the Livonian Crusade of Albert I, duke of Saxony as a case study. He explores the relationship between the duke, Bishop Albert of Riga, and the foundation of the Sword Brethren during several campaigns that would have a lasting legacy in the eastern Baltic. The final paper in this section by David Sychra also the examines the theme of power politics, but in this case during the Prussian Crusades. Sychra makes a compelling argument that Bishop Bruno of Olomouc was the initiator of two crusades that have traditionally been attributed to the Bohemian king Ottokar II Premislas rather than being a part of a larger plan to attain the imperial throne.

The third section of this book, “Conquest and Expansion” broadens the horizons even further. In the first paper of this section, Jens Olesen provides an overview of the Swedish Expeditions to Finland, making a comparison with the Wendish Crusade in terms of the propaganda used and territorial expansion of the Swedish crown. Martin Schürrer expands the timeline a bit with a discussion of the conflicts between Count Adolf II of Schauenburg and Prince Niklot of the Obodrites which were tied into the Wendish Crusade but would lead to increasing violence in the region as crusader rhetoric was used to support territorial expansion. Following on from Schürrer in expanding the Wendish Crusade into territorial conquest, Oliver Auge explorers that Danish conquest of the Island of Rugia in 1168/1169. These events have traditionally been viewed as being motivated by political expansionism and economics, but Auge follows the recent debate in asking if there are links to the idea of the Crusades. He explores the role of events like the Wendish Crusade, but also other conquests like Pomerania, along with missionary activities and their likely influence upon the Danish crown under Valdemar I. The final paper in this section by Luis García-Guijarro expands beyond the Baltic and revisits the famous battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. García-Guijarro seeks to explore some of the traditional assumptions about this battle and its subsequent mythologization. Was this battle decisive? Was this battle the beginning of unification and the modern Iberian states? Was this battle a crusade? To all three he would argue no. On the face of it, this would seem at odds with the theme of the book, but García-Guijarro is clear to point out that there were crusading themes related to Las Navas; instead, he emphasizes that the Iberian Reconquista concept as an idealized crusade is very much a modern construct.

The two papers that comprise section four, “Catholicism and Orthodoxy,” explore the relationship between Latin crusaders and the Roman Church’s major institutional rivals in the Aegean and Eastern Europe. Nikolaos Chrissis explores the use of the idea of schism as a justification for calling crusades upon the Byzantines post 1204. He also traces the use of this terminology and hostility between the two groups from a period before the First Crusade in which they could be termed “brothers in the faith” (239). Anti Salert explores the growth of the Orthodox Rus in Novgorod and their growing self-image as a bastion of Christianity in Eastern Europe, surviving amongst the Mongols and various pagan tribes. He outlines the growing tensions following Latin expansions into the Baltic, culminating in both sides mythologizing their positions, with Catholics declaring the Rus to be schismatics and pagans while the Rus under Alexander Nevsky are depicted as following the true faith and standing up against western aggression. The use of this propaganda and rhetoric is unfortunately still relevant today.

The final section of this book, “Legitimation and Propaganda,” is the broadest, and collates a series of articles with the general idea of the development of the “afterlife” of various crusades. Eric Böhme uses a letter sent from King Amalric of Jerusalem to Louis VII of France to re-examine Amalric’s invasion of Egypt in 1163. Despite the general view that the invasion was seen as a failure--Amalric was forced to retreat in the face of sluice gates being opened to allow the flood waters to hinder the army--Böhme argues that the letter suggests that Almaric’s initial invasion was not a one-off. Instead, he suggests, the 1163 campaign should be seen as a developing strategy to conquer Egypt that would lead to the later campaigns of the Fifth Crusade and Louis IX. Nora Berend’s article explores the afterlife of Andrew II of Hungary’s abortive participation in the Fifth Crusade. She gives a brief outline of the events and the critical comments his participation received in western sources. However, she cites a number of examples, including the vita of King Ladislas I and more recent historiography, to show the counter-tradition that was developing in response through which Andrew became much more central to the crusading narrative. Robert Antonín explores the rhetoric and propaganda of Ottokar II Premislas of Bohemia. In effect, the question is simple: was Ottokar a crusader? Antonín outlines the historiography, which seems to answer this with a resounding yes. However, he delves deeper and tries to get beyond the mythology. The answer is still yes: Ottokar is listed in the chronicles as leading two crusades to Prussia and against the Mongols. Antonín does raise a doubt though as to how committed he was to the crusading ideal personally. The final article by Paul Srodecki examines the use of the crusading idea in a concerted effort from all regions under the umbrella of the Catholic Church against groups coming in with the Mongol invasions. He briefly outlines East and Central Europe before these invasions before providing examples of the increased rhetoric and propaganda, such as the images from Matthew Paris’s Chronica Majora depicting the Mongols as cannibals. Srodecki then details the more official institutional responses from various kingdoms and the papacy, including Innocent IV’s more pragmatic response. He concludes by outlining the links to the crusading idea, even if there was not always a direct reference to crusade preaching against Mongols, the issuance of papal indulgences, crusading revenues and other trappings of the Pluralist definition certainly show how crusading rhetoric and ideology were central to the response to the Mongol invasions.

This collection of essays shows a broad scope of crusade scholarship that will be useful for a wide range of scholars. Though there is a strong focus on the Baltic at the time of the Second Crusade, there is clear geographical and temporal scope as well as sections on imagery and literature. It is clearly aimed at upper-level students and academics and serves as a good account into current ideas in this field. It is particularly important because the articles in this volume force the reader to question traditional assumptions about the Crusades and the idea of crusading.