miércoles, 9 de septiembre de 2015

A lively and compelling account of how the crusades really worked, and a revolutionary attempt to rethink how we understand the Middle Ages

What it took to wage holy war, Medieval style

Jonathan Sumption reviews Christopher Tyerman’s How to Plan a Crusade

How to Plan a Crusade: Reason and Religious War in the Middle Ages
Christopher Tyerman

For most of history, religion and war have been the most powerful social instincts of mankind and its chief collective activities. In the crusades, they combined to create a movement of great emotional power, which convulsed Europe in the 12th century and retained its appeal to the military classes until the end of the Middle Ages. One might expect people who embarked on a great war with such intense spiritual exultation to be unconcerned with practical planning. And there were some who believed that these mundane matters should be left to the Holy Spirit to sort out. But they tended to come to a sticky end. For most crusaders, holy war was a serious business, calling for professional organisation, ample finance and meticulous logistical preparation.

Christopher Tyerman is the author of outstanding books on the crusades, notably God’s War (2006), which remains the best modern account of the whole subject. In How to Plan a Crusade, he tackles the whole question of crusade preparation. Much of the book is concerned with the way that crusading armies were recruited: why men joined up, how they found the money, how they persuaded their friends and dependents to come with them, how they arranged their affairs in their absence, how they pacified their irate wives. The rest deals with strategic and logistical planning, with shipping, with stores of food and water, with medical considerations, with weaponry, from daggers to prefabricated forts, with techniques of amphibious warfare and so on. It is a huge subject.

It is also an exceptionally difficult one. Preparation for war is above all an administrative exercise, but there were very few administrative records before the end of the 13th century. By an unhappy coincidence this was just around the time when the last crusader kingdom of the Levant disappeared. There are always the chroniclers, of course. But few of them had much interest in the build-up, and those who did were rather careless with their facts. Numbers were a particularly weak point. Contemporary estimates of the size of crusading armies are notoriously wild. The late-12th-century chroniclers Ralph of Diceto and Richard of Devizes, for example, give detailed and apparently precise figures about the size of Richard Coeur-de-Lion’s crusading fleets of 1189–90 and the number of men and horses carried, which seem to offer unique insights into the logistics of sea transportation until one realises that they are physically impossible. Joinville, the 13th-century chronicler and friend of Louis IX of France, was an eyewitness, and yet some of his information is no better.


Read more:

No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario