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The Crusades and the Near East: Cultural Histories.

The Crusades and the Near East: Cultural Histories, edited by Conor Kostick. New York, Routledge, 2011. xvi, 271 pp. $125.00 US (cloth), $41.95 US (paper).

Unlike the clear boundaries of political or social history, cultural history encompasses many different aspects of human activity as this collection of articles shows. The editor, Conor Kostick, sees this volume as a "dialogue" between cultural and crusade studies and the articles represent a distillation of research currently conducted within the latter field (p. 2). As Kostick mentions, a more accurate subtitle for the work might have been "conflict and cohabitation," or as Bernard Hamilton proposes in the afterward, perhaps "crusading paradoxes" since all of the articles reflect long-term issues between interacting groups during the crusade era (pp. 6, 262).

The first article, by John France, the dean of historians who study crusading warfare, describes the very different approaches to warfare and tactics between westerners and Muslims. Unsurprisingly their opposing fighting styles reflected the societies from which each sprang, but neither style was innately superior to the other. France notes that the two cultures really did not adopt much militarily from the other.

Two articles focus on diplomacy and peacemaking. Yehoshua Frankel notes that there was no unified or uniform Muslim response to the Frankish conquests nor was there really a notion of jihad against the Franks for the initial quarter century of the Latin States. Mid and late twelfth-century warrior princes like Nur aldin and Saladin adopted jihad partially to prop up Sunni Islam and their own political regimes. Holy war made these rulers appear to be pious and patriotic, allowing them to link diverse peoples under their political control by giving them a common enemy. Between 1095 and 1291 Yvonne Friedman counts 120 treaties of varying types between Westerners and Muslims, proving that war was never constant during the era. According to the Koran, permanent treaties could not be signed between Muslims and infidels. Therefore Muslim rulers broke what were written as permanent treaties if doing so gave them an advantage, or immediately offered one if they were in a position of weakness with the clear intention of breaking it when circumstances permitted. Or, conversely, in order to justify a truce, Muslim diplomats might incorporate wording suggesting they were in a weaker position even if they were not, in order not to bring down the ire of their community.

Two articles concern interactions between the Byzantine Empire and the West. Chris Wright and Lean Ni Chleirigh agree that the First Crusade was not good for the empire. From the outset Westerners mistrusted Byzantine intentions. Wright's chapter shows that the Byzantine response to the crusade encouraged marginalization of Greek concerns over time. Through the years the crusaders toyed with the idea of taking Constantinople partially because of consistently lukewarm Byzantine assistance. For the Byzantines, the western seizure of Constantinople in 1204, called the Fourth Crusade, confirmed to them how dismissive the west was of its older brother. By the end of the era, even though Byzantine control had reasserted itself, the Byzantines had lost confidence in the eternity of their state and increasingly viewed themselves not as universal Romans but rather by the language they spoke, Greek. The Byzantines gradually considered westerners less as "barbarians" and more as "Latins."

Natasha Hodgson's article explores an area neglected by both Crusade and Byzantine scholars: how native Christian peoples reacted to the crusaders. She concludes that the Armenians used crusader influence to strengthen their own states, with varying degrees of success. During the era both Latin and Armenian elites engaged in many literal marriages of convenience but neither group accepted the suzerainty of the other, weakening both vis-a-vis the Muslims.

Two articles delve into linguistic issues. Alan V. Murray assesses how the Western world responded to its own deep cultural differences during and immediately after the First Crusade. The geographical region now called "France" consisted of several different languages and many more dialects, not including people from German- and Dutch-speaking areas with their local dialects. Day-to-day communications between crusading groups must have been nightmarish but chroniclers say little about it. Some medieval authors glossed over cultural antagonisms in favour of treating the crusade as a shared enterprise. Others emphasized the linguistically French contingents on the army, one calling his account The Deeds of God through the Franks. Murray notes that Old French became the most important working language of the Latin States, Latin of course remaining the language of culture and religion. In the other linguistically themed article, Sini Kangas traces the term "Saracen" by western writers. Before the eleventh century authors used the term somewhat indiscriminately to denote someone from the Arabian Peninsula rather than one who espoused a particular religion. The crusades brought exclusive use of the term "Saracen" by westerners to mean Muslim.

Presenting a synthesis of recent research, Susan B. Edgington challenges the idea that "Saracen medicine" was inherently better than western medicine during the Crusade era, something that was generally accepted by twentieth-century scholars. While the Arabs were the first to license physicians, a practice that Westerners adopted from them, the Hospital of Jerusalem, a western institution which owed nothing to Islamic culture, was quite sophisticated. She believes the skill and knowledge gap between Western and Eastern medicine in the Middle Ages was far less than previously believed.

Jurgen Kruger uses the most holy church in all of Christendom, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, as a test case to see how much architectural mixing occurred between Christian East and West and the Muslims. He concludes that scholarly study of this is still in its infancy but until 1150, the church appears to reflect Western designs; after 1150 perhaps the ideas of Eastern Christian craftsmen began to hold sway.

The collection ends with an afterward from a distinguished crusade historian, Bernard Hamilton. He reminds the readers that parts of the Holy Land were in western hands longer than some European states had colonies in the modern era. Also, war in the Middle East during the crusades was neither total nor constant. In fact, both Christians and Muslims often gave grudging respect to each other's faith, viewing differences not as evil or false, but merely as corruption of proper religion. The idea that the crusades were religious wars to the knife is simply false.

Kostick has produced a useful collection that shows how much and how little the crusades impacted on all the peoples involved. The articles should be useful to anyone who needs to know that the crusades were never an all-or-nothing proposition. Latin Christian, Byzantine Christian, Eastern Christian, Muslim, plus their many subdivisions, not only fought but also co-existed for several centuries.

Laurence W. Marvin

Berry College, Mount Berry, Georgia
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Author:Marvin, Laurence W.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2012
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