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22.08.16 Jensen/Nielsen (eds.), The Crusades: History and Memory

22.08.16 Jensen/Nielsen (eds.), The Crusades: History and Memory

Edited volumes on the crusades come thick and fast these days, and keeping up can be a challenge. Two 2021 Brepols books, both containing published proceedings of the 2016 Quadrennial Conference of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East, have now joined this crowded field. The book under review is the second of those volumes. [1] Apropos of the title, its ten chapters focus mainly on how the crusades have been remembered in the short and long term, with an emphasis on the latter, as well as sub-themes of terminology, linguistics, and medievalism. These are carried through the volume reasonably well, and students interested in how the crusades have been depicted, characterized, remembered, forgotten, and deployed for political purposes will find much of interest in its pages.

Five of the chapters trace memory of the crusades into the nineteenth century or beyond. The most direct terminological study is Benjamin Weber’s “When and Where did the Word ‘Crusade’ Appear in the Middle Ages? And Why?” It employs an integrated linguistic method to argue that the vernacular crozada first appeared in the early thirteenth century--and nearly simultaneously--in Navarre and Languedoc (the Latin equivalent would not arrive until several decades later). Its genesis, he argues, lay in a social need to represent this peculiar sort of military endeavor in writing. Worth considering, as he discusses in the conclusion, is why regions such as Scandinavia and Italy--where the word does not appear as early--were so late to the party (214-15).

In a related piece, Christopher T. Maier considers the Latin equivalents to which Weber refers by tracing the appearance of cruciata and crucesignatus (or cruce signatus) and their variations in “When Was the First History of the Crusades Written?” He concludes that medieval writers did not really write histories of the crusades as a “thing,” per se; rather, the use of croisade as an institutional concept only emerged in the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries, especially with its systematic employment by Louis Maimbourg in his 1675 work Histoire des croisades pour la deliverance de la Terre Sainte. The consequence, Maier asserts, is that modern scholars have been working with an anachronistic term: “on the assumption that the crusade was an institution in the sense of a particular type of medieval warfare” (24). Following, Maier suggests we stop trying to define what a crusade was because it was not, institutionally, any particular sort of war (24). The proffered alternative is to refocus on histories of “medieval religious warrior culture” over time, i.e., crusader activities, mentalities, contexts, and “modes of expression” (25). Not everyone will agree. The crusades were particular sorts of wars and often had a distinct character, an atypical one at that. Unlike localized conflicts, crusades were expeditionary, multi-regional, and joint (multi-service) wars with abnormally-long lines of sustainment and communication and complex methods of recruitment. Can we really assert that medieval commanders, or even chronicle authors, were ignorant of such distinctions?

Moving from strict terminology to characterizations of the crusades themselves is Mike Horswell’s “From ‘Superstitious Veneration’ to ‘War to Defend Christendom,’” which studies characterizations of the crusades in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Through 15 editions, Britannica’s entry on the crusadesfeatured a number of shifts in both length and breadth on this particular subject. It evolved alongside generational interpretive currents; the crusades were cast first as superstitious endeavors by a barbarous Europe, then as mechanisms of western progress, wars featuring valorous deeds and participants, and so on. By the 1970s, they were recast as defenses of Christendom against Islamic aggression, particularly in Marshall W. Baldwin’s 1974 revision. Horswell then singles out Thomas Madden’s early twenty-first-century update of Baldwin’s entry as the return to an East-West “Clash of Civilizations” model, one that hinges on papal agency as a prime mover. The article thereafter reads as a subtle indictment of Madden, whose entry is deemed a deterministic trope. Implicit in Horswell’s discussion is the hint that the entry has had (or, perhaps, will have) deleterious, indirect consequences because the “clash” narrative can be tied to such groups as ISIS and to the appropriation of crusading imagery by extremist groups in general: thus, “one might consider a revision an imperative” (151).

Beyond wondering just how many extremists have been inspired by old Britannica entries, this reviewer has to question the wisdom of suggesting motives for the work of living scholars absent their own testimony and/or the use of recommended oral history techniques. Horswell attempts to trace the course of edits from 1999-2005 but seems unsure about just when, how--or why--Madden (or, alternatively, Britannica editors) revised Baldwin’s article (147-148). As it happens, I was the contracted fact-checker for this exact Britannica entry and therefore had a minor role in how the entry evolved. I will not disclose my unique insight here to confirm or deny Horswell’s suspicions. Instead, I would only suggest that scholars tread very carefully when pondering motives and also note that telephones remain useful things: a simple call to Madden for verification might well have clarified matters.

A different take on remembrance is Jonathan Phillips, “The Memory of Saladin and the Crusades in the Near East from the Fifteenth to the Late Nineteenth Centuries.” Narrowing the aperture to the famous Ayyubid sultan, Phillips provides an important corrective to the old canard that Saladin was essentially forgotten until his intellectual resurrection in the eighteenth century. Instead, he finds that a thematic memory of Saladin’s deeds, while perhaps not overwhelming and comprehensive in nature, nonetheless persisted in Egyptian, and then Ottoman, texts. As a corollary, Phillips submits that Kaiser Wilhelm’s much-celebrated 1898 visit to Damascus did not independently reignite interest in the sultan and inspire a sort of Arab nationalism; rather, the visit (and the movement) stood upon a foundation already laid by works in the preceding centuries.

The last of the grouping, Adam Knobler’s “Paradigms for Understanding Modern Crusading,” attempts to create a typology of the rhetorical (and invariably, political) uses of the crusades from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century. He sees them as sorting into six categories: rulers who placed themselves within a heritage of crusading (e.g., Charles X); rulers who inserted themselves into a nonexistent crusading heritage (e.g., Ferdinand I); modern wars likened to the crusades (e.g., American Civil War); anti-Muslim holy wars (principally wars waged against the Ottomans); imperialism cast as crusade/holy war (e.g., the French in Indochina); and Muslim uses of western crusading imagery (Nasser and Usama bin Laden). The latter falls nicely into the postcolonial attribution of Muslim actions to western stimuli; thus, ISIS and Hamas use the term mainly in reaction to the heritage of western imperialism, and of course George W. Bush’s somehow-infamous use of the word “crusade” provided fodder for the Muslim world to exploit (176). Admitting his paradigms have “a certain fuzziness” (176), he sees their utility as essentially outlining how groups have sought to utilize the crusades as “uncomplicated” explanations for political/policy choices. The chapter is quite short and more precis than study.

So much for half the book. Two more of its chapters center not on terminology or figures but rather generalized impressions of the crusades’ meaning. Carol Sweetenham adds to the corpus of studies on crusading miracles (a subject healthily renewed in the last two decades) with her “When the Saints go Marching in: The Memory of the Miraculous in the Sources for the First Crusade.” She traces usage of the stories of the heavenly host and the holy lance at the siege of Antioch in both chronicles and literature to the late twelfth century and concludes that, while the truth of both stories was often questioned, they were nonetheless politicized and became a part of crusading mythology. [2]

In a modern complement, Elizabeth Siberry’s “Memorials to Crusaders: The Use of Crusade Imagery in British First World War Memorials,” examines sculptures and stained-glass windows created in Britain and France in the early twentieth century. She identifies several revelatory depictions of both anonymous crusader regulars and more famous leaders like St. Louis and Richard I. These originated either through broad community support (including public feedback during the design process) or from the largesse of influential private donors. Leaning on past interpretations by Stefan Goebel, Siberry agrees that the carnage of the Western Front spurred an interest in more positive commemorative pieces--famous figures cast in a noble cause helped to comfort those grieving the fallen in the midst of a rather senseless war (196). In other words, much of the public remembered the crusades at that time as a good thing. Such a collective, emotive response cannot help but complicate some contemporary efforts to pin the propagation of modern crusading ideology on particular, elite individuals.

The final three essays depart somewhat from the volume’s main thrust of the terminology, characterization, and utilization of the crusades. Two center on specific texts. Though rather narrow in scope, they are deep studies that will interest specialists: Massimiliano Gaggero’s “The Circulation of the Eracles in Italy and Galeotto del Carretto’s Chronicle,” and Aphrodite Papayianni’s “Has Emperor Henry of Constantinople’s Legend Survived in Greek Folk Poetry?” Finally, the volume’s co-editor, Kurt Villads Jensen, offers “Once and Future Crusades: Past and Projected Plans of Emperor Frederick II and King Valdemar II of Denmark, c. 1214-1227.” Jensen notes that since the nineteenth century, whole groups of historians, especially Danish and German scholars, have either forgotten or ignored the startling possibility that Valdemar and Frederick conceived of a joint crusade to the Levant. Moreover, he tantalizes the reader with the prospect that Valdemar’s kidnapping in May 1223--by his own vassal, Count Henry of Schwerin--was somehow connected to these plans.

Overall, the volume is to be recommended for its thematic coherence. Its ten chapters complement each other in interesting ways. Both beginning and advanced students of history and memory and medievalism should consult them, as should individuals teaching the crusades at university. For crusades researchers not working on memory, however, the collection will be thought-provoking but perhaps less useful; excepting Sweetenham’s and Jensen’s chapters, there is not much here on the military, political, religious, or social history of the wars themselves.



1. See the 2022 TMR review by Miguel Dolan Gómez: Legacies of the Crusades: Proceedings of the Ninth Conference of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East, eds. T. K. Nielsen and K. V. Jensen, Outremer: Studies in the Crusades and the Latin East, 11 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2021).

2. One correction: Sweetenham comments in a footnote on Robert the Monk’s reference to Maurice, “who is not a Byzantine warrior saint” (64). Maurice was, however, the purported author of the military manual Strategikon. This was common knowledge among Byzantium’s warrior class, although whether or not Robert--or indeed, any given western commander--knew of that text or those it later influenced (such as Leo VI’s Taktika)is an interesting question.