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Merchant Crusaders in the Aegean, 1291-1352
By Mike Carr
Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2015
6-1/2” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xvi + 196 pages
Illustrations, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, index. $99.00
ISBN: 97817843839903

 

    Mike Carr’s Merchant Crusaders in the Aegean 1291-1352 details the complex power struggles throughout the Aegean Sea during the Crusades. Carr states that the Crusades in the Aegean Sea was not simply a war between Christian and Islamic forces, but a balancing act of furthering Christian gains while trying to maintain economic stability in the Aegean Sea. 


    Carr starts by analyzing the strategic importance of the Aegean Sea before the fall of Acre. He outlines the political, religious, and ethnic divides of the Aegean Sea and the perils of raiders and treacherous waters plaguing the region. In terms of the Crusades, Carr explains that many Christian forces at the onset of the Crusades viewed the Greeks and Byzantines as evil and, in some contemporary writings, worse than their Islamic opponents. Christian forces regularly attacked Byzantines possessions, citing that the Greeks were incapable of holding against the Islamic forces. The fall of Acre, the last port on the mainland of the Levant held by Christian forces, signaled a shift in Christian tactics in stopping Islamic expansion. A number of naval leagues formed during the Crusades between Genoa, Venice, Byzantium, the Kingdom of Cyprus, and the Papal States to patrol the Aegean Sea and intercept the numerous raids conducted by the Turks. Carr details the complex balancing act of the maritime powers in the Aegean Sea on strategies to best combat Islamic expansion while still maintaining trade. Papal orders, in many cases, conflicted with the maritime commercial wishes of the other members of the naval leagues. Carr concludes by reiterating the role that both the maritime powers of the Aegean and the papacy had in strategies to combat Turkish expansion. 


    Carr does an excellent job of structuring his book in a concise and easy-to-follow manner that covers a wide range of viewpoints, both political and economic, while still maintaining cohesion. His method of following the perspective of certain powers, such as the Venetians, then backtracking to the beginning of his timeline to follow another viewpoint ran the risk of creating confusion, but his ability to reiterate major activities in each chapter insures that the timeline of events is not confused throughout the book. 


    Sources for his book provide a strong foundation from which the main theme derives. Carr pulls sources from Islamic texts, such as Ibn Battuta’s account of travels through the Muslim world, as well as Christian texts, both political and economic, which range from trade license agreements to indulgences granted for crusaders in the Aegean.  The wide variety of sources used, and acknowledgment of biases within those sources, ensures the greatest clarity available about the state of the Aegean Sea during the Crusades. 


    Carr’s Merchant Crusaders in the Aegean 1291-1352 is a highly detailed account of the complex political, economic, and military events in the Aegean Sea. His analysis of various Aegean perspectives, with the addition of using a variety of primary sources and secondary research, reinforces his thesis about the way in which the Papacy and maritime powers balanced warfare against a common enemy and maintaining important trade routes to the east. This well written book will provide valuable insight to scholars who seek to understand the Crusades in the Aegean.

 

Tyler Caldwell
East Carolina University

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