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22.06.25 Nielsen/Jensen (eds.), Legacies of the Crusades

22.06.25 Nielsen/Jensen (eds.), Legacies of the Crusades

Conference proceedings, especially those that stem from large conferences which encompass a wide variety of scholarship, like the quadrennial meetings of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East, can produce somewhat unwieldy books. The editors of Legacies of the Crusades acknowledge this early in their introduction, referencing the “dynamic diversity” of the 2016 conference from which the volume grew (14). Although the title of the book, and variety of people, places, and events, which could be considered legacies of the crusades, might suggest that the volume is something of a grab-bag, Nielsen and Jensen make the case that the collection has a clear focus and historiographical relevance: “One of the basic intentions with the selections made for this volume has been to highlight some crucial, yet sometimes surprisingly overlooked, elements of crusade history: the ending of warfare and the reorganisation and rebuilding of societies in immediate post-war conditions”(14). Indeed, most of the thirteen chapters which follow the introduction fit neatly into this formulation and, indeed, to highlight some important-yet-neglected aspects of crusade history.

The first body chapter is, in some ways, is the most awkward fit for the volume’s stated thesis, and therefore is assigned to its own subheading, “The Diversity of Crusading,” which was the theme chosen for the 2016 SSCLE conference. The section’s lone essay is the keynote lecture from that conference, given by Alan V. Murray. Murray’s chapter, like his lecture, seeks to give a wide overview of the diverse topics, peoples, and events that are brought together in the study of the crusades. The essay begins with the major crusades directed toward the Holy Land, and gradually broadening to include the Baltic campaigns, and then the fights against the Ottoman Empire in Eastern Europe. Though barely mentioning the Iberian Peninsula, which was of course a very busy crusade theater, Murray’s essay ends with a discussion of crusading ideas and institutions as they were brought into the Atlantic world in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. The chapter ends with a detailed description of the performance of a crusade-inspired spectacle, complete with sixteenth-century special effects, which took place in Tlaxcala, Mexico, in 1539 to celebrate that city’s alliance with the Empire of Charles V, certainly a fascinating legacy of the crusades.

The second section, consisting of four chapters, focuses on the crusades directed towards the Holy Land. Ahmed Sheir opens the section with an article examining the complex influence of the Prester John legend on the relations between Christians and Muslims in the Latin East from 1144 (the capture of Edessa) to 1221 (the end of the Fifth Crusade). Touching on a number of different aspects of the Prester John legend and its reception in both Europe and the Holy Land, the chapter ends by highlighting the decisive influence that the legend played during the Fifth Crusade. Fueled in part by news of Genghis Khan’s conquests trickling into the Mediterranean world, the legend famously influenced the decision by the leaders of the crusade to not make peace, even when very favorable terms were offered by their Ayyubid foes.

The next chapter, by Betty Bynish, is focused squarely on peace-making and the end of the military phase of a crusade, in this case the Third Crusade. Bynish compares the accounts from three different Arabic sources which describe Saladin’s reasons and motivations for ending the conflict. She highlights the distinct differences between portrayals by the authors who were very close to Saladin, and thus went to some lengths to defend his reputation as a holy warrior, and Ibn al-Athir, the famous chronicler who, writing some decades after the events, approached the question with “a historian’s instinct for synthesizing the most plausible account from multiple reports” (91).

Tomislav Karlović’s essay highlights a very specific aspect of the types of “reorganized” societies which were legacies of the crusade. Taking the writing of the famous Usama ibn Munqidh as his source, Karlović examines the apparent application of a specific detail of Roman law in the case of some Muslim captives ransomed by Usama in Acre. He then uses this brief episode to wade into the complex questions of the evolution of legal practices in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, ultimately arguing for a “spontaneous development” of such practices, based on the prior experiences of Frankish settlers in the Holy Land (110).

The final chapter of this section, by Jochen Burgtorf, takes up the issue of refugees, the constant but oft-neglected victims of almost all armed conflicts. Though refugees were not a regular focus of most medieval chroniclers, Burgtorf shows that there is sufficient evidence, at least in the sources surrounding the Third Crusade, to demonstrate the impact of war on civilian populations. While I was not sure of the utility of his application of modern psychological categories to the sources he examined, Burgtorf very effectively argues that crusade history almost always involves the study of conflict, and is therefore incomplete without giving “due consideration” to the refugees such conflicts create (130).

The next section, “Societies in the Eastern Mediterranean,” includes some of the most impactful essays of the whole volume, starting with Adam Simmons’ examination of the place of Christian Nubia in the Latin understanding of the Orbis Christianorum. This chapter is very timely given the flurry of new scholarly activity expanding the geographic and cultural scope of the medieval world to include places beyond Europe and the Mediterranean, especially East Africa. Simmons offers a broad survey of the appearance of Nubians, or at least references to Nubians, throughout the twelfth and thirteenth century in the Latin East and West. Of particular interest is his description of the illustrations in the 1321 manuscript given by Marion Sanudo to Pope John XXII. Here, more than anywhere else, the lack of any maps or illustrations in Legacies of the Crusades is acutely felt.

Shlomo Lotan’s assessment of the leadership of the Teutonic Order in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, in particular in the aftermath of Frederick II’s crusade in the late 1220s, nicely dovetails with the volume’s theme of consolidation and peace-making. Highlighting the role of secondary leaders of the Order, at a time when the Grand Master was mostly away in Europe, Logan argues that a strategy of land acquisition and resource management, in both cooperation and competition with the other military orders, enabled the Teutonic Order to strengthen its position, and consequently the Latin Kingdom itself.

The third article of this section, by Nicholas Coureas, describes the class of burgers or burgesses in the Kingdom of Cyprus. The article, which might be regarded as a teaser for the author’s new book, The Burgesses of Lusignan Cyprus 1192-1474 (2020), offers a broad overview of the formation of the burgess class, and its relations to the burgesses of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and to the wider European world. The article usefully highlights the fluidity of burgesses as a social class or an easily-defined group, except through certain highly-valued legal privileges, like access to the burgess courts. While the notion of a burgess class may have had its roots in the Latin West, Coureas stresses the “degree of ethnic and confessional diversity” of Cypriot burgesses, as opposed to the kingdom’s very western nobility.

The final article, by Nicholas McDermott, finishes this strong section of the book on a high note. McDermott offers a fascinating look into the institution of slavery, as practiced by the Order of the Hospital in Cyprus, Rhodes, and Malta. The author goes to some length to contextualize the Hospitaller slave system both against the backdrop of medieval slavery and slavery as it developed in the Atlantic world. The article describes the use of slave labor on the Order’s sugar plantations in Rhodes and Cyprus, and later in their galleys as rowers. Pointing out the relatively unique position of the Order as a corporate, even “state-run” slave-holder (198), McDermott also focuses on the criteria for enslavability used by the Hospital. In this, the Order appears to have been more guided by the need for slaves than by any sort of religiously-informed standards, as highlighted by their not-infrequent disagreements with the Inquisition (and other institutions) as to the status of some of their slaves.

The final section of Legacies of the Crusades focuses on the Baltic region, and all four chapters very closely cleave to the editors’ schema for the collection and fit very nicely together. Mihkel Mäesalu studies agreements between to-be-converted pagans and crusaders in both narrative and charter sources. He highlights the evidence of negotiation in these agreements, in particular the retention of property and certain concessions concerning taxes, which were sometimes granted to the groups concerned. This complicates the traditional story of subjugation and Christianization by highlighting the degree to which native peoples of the Baltic might have “had their say” in the process (232), a useful observation, which is not uncommon but often overlooked, in medieval power relations. Nevertheless, Mäesalu is cautious in his conclusion, pointing out that “Christianization through crusade and conquest was still a bad deal for the native elite” (213).

Anti Selart’s chapter examines intermarriage between mostly German Baltic crusaders and natives of Livonia (modern Estonia and Latvia). Departing from the tension between often-fictitious early-modern genealogies, which posited mixed origins of many prominent families, and the dismissal of these stories by modern historians, mostly due to modern ethnic tensions, Selart examines various ways in which the issue of intermarriage, and the subsequent survival of pre-conquest patterns of power and property, might be reconstructed. Ultimately, he concludes, it was wealth, more than any other considerations, which determined the possibility for intermarriage between native families and settling crusaders.

The third article in this section, by Raitis Simsons, which nicely complements the proceeding chapter, again examines the place of indigenous Prussians and Livonians in the post-crusade settlements of the region. Comparing available Prussian and Curonian (Latvia) charters, complete with several useful tables, Simsons notes that the evidence points to a considerably more complex social structure than simply conquerors and conquered, or than the various models of freemen and peasants suggested by German historiography of Prussia. While acknowledging the limits of the methodology, he notes that comparing Curonian and Prussian charter evidence provides one approach to overcoming the relative paucity of Curonian documents, even if the structure of that society remains “much harder to reconstruct” (282).

This section, and the book, concludes with a broad overview of how the legacy of crusading shaped the Teutonic Order and their rule in Prussia, by Gregory Leighton. Leighton’s chapter, unlike the others, explicitly makes reference to the overall theme and logic of the volume, and as such makes for an effective conclusion. The effort to legitimize the Baltic as a crusading theater, especially in the aftermath of the fall of Acre in 1291, and the fourteenth-century reform of the Order in the wake of its wars against Poland neatly amplify the ways in which the history and memory of the crusades continued to shape efforts to reorganize and rebuild in the aftermath of conflict.

Overall, despite the potential awkwardness of a volume of conference proceedings, Legacies of the Crusades holds together very well, and brings to light a number of excellent pieces of scholarship. Like any edited volume, there are potential grounds for criticism. The editing of the various chapters is a bit uneven: some are very polished, others are not. In some of the articles, the English diction leaves a bit to be desired. Even the copy-editing is wanting in a few spots, though this is really a publisher-level issue. Similarly, the lack of images or maps in the volume is, in places, regrettable, but also presumably a limitation imposed by the conditions of publication, rather than editorial choice. But these are minor criticisms, which might be true of any book. Jensen, Nielsen, and all of the contributors are to be commended for the production of a fascinating and well-organized volume.