An examination of historical reconstruction's impact on modern customary international law via an analysis of medieval post-conflict ransoming of prisoners.

AuthorAlton, Richard A.C.
PositionContinuation of III. The Medieval Post-Conflict Ransom Culture C. Borrowed Theory through VI. Conclusion, with footnotes, p. 302-327

The borrowed theory's use of archival studies truly represents the current avenue of historical reconstruction, specifically, Friedman's reference to Islamic chroniclers tracking the dates, amounts, and values of various prisoner exchanges. (193) Archives, charters, tax rolls, and deeds give historians a picture into the practical workings of the medieval world. The reality is that the use of archives in the study of history is nothing new. As Jesse Spohnholz notes, "[i]n the early 19th century archives began to acquire a privileged status among the new academic historians; they were seen to offer the most direct access to voices from past centuries." (194) He continues, evidence in archives is not simply descriptive of the past, but prescriptive of how a people understood their present and wanted later generations to understand the past." (195) Caution should be exercised, however, because only using archives as source material limits historians to the point of view of the archivist. (196) Friedman's references to theology, namely liturgical history, help bolster the borrowed theory. (197) Friedman makes reference to the use of prayer, the increase of liturgy focused on captivity after the Battle of Hattin, and the creation of the Trinitarian Order. (198)

Liturgical history], a branch of theology,] traces the roots and origins Of ... worship practices, the development of liturgical orders, and the diversification of liturgical rites. It studies the progress of rituals, calendars, texts, liturgical laws, devotions, architecture, graphic arts, and music--situating them in reference to cultural communities, historical circumstances, and theological understandings. (199) This is a remarkable use of cross-studies research. By examining a source normally found in theology and applying it in a historical reconstructive framework, the borrowed theory is strengthened.

The study of literature is another foundation of the borrowed theory. Friedman relies on literature from the ninth and tenth centuries. (200) Steven Hake finds that "[literature is] a mirror in which we can see ourselves even more clearly, more vividly than in an ordinary mirror." (201) This is "[b]ecause literature interprets, simplifies[,] and focuses our experience it helps us realize what is most important, most basic, in that experience." (202) By using literary sources, Friedman creatively examines their meaning and nature of as interpretive presentation of medieval European human experience.

Friedman notes that her "narrative is only partly chronological." (203) This, however, is only partly true. Chronology plays a major role in the borrowed theory, just as it played in the independent theory. For example, without the knowledge that the Trinitarian Order began in 1198, eleven years after the Battle of Hattin, the argument that the battle served as a "watershed" (204) moment would be greatly diminished.

  1. Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something True

    So which theory is correct: did the ransom culture arise independently in Normandy or was it borrowed from the East via Crusaders' interactions with their Muslim counterparts? Both theories go beyond historiographic sources. Both also look beyond the various auxiliary fields of history. The independent theory benefits from etymology and the borrowed theory leans on theology. Picking a winner, however, was not the point of this exercise; the point rests in showing the inner workings of historical reconstruction, whereby the historical scholar attempts to explain via her contemporary mindset of past events by using evidence collected through various other fields. While the above source examinations that were employed for each theory explains the latter part of historical reconstruction, using evidence collected through various other fields. A passage from Friedman's work helps best to characterize the former portion of historical reconstruction, contemporary mindset. (205) Friedman, in discussing the death of Robert of Barneville, cites a quote from Albert of Aachen:

    [h]e was always watchful in ambushes and slaughter of the gentiles and his extraordinary deeds were much greater than our pen can explain. His fame was even pre-eminent among all the Turks and they used willingly to see and hear him in any business they were doing with the Christians, or in the restitution of prisoners on both sides, or when at any time they were arranging a truce between them. (206) Friedman notes fellow scholar, John France, understands this passage to mean Roger of Barneville's ransom of captives is what made him famous. (207) Friedman blatantly states, "I understand it differently." (208) "I understand it differently" rests at the heart of historical reconstruction, i.e., using the multitude of sources is what a historian sees. Freidman should be credited for her honesty.

    It is understandable that a brief comparison between the two theories would be appreciated. Friedman states, "[t]he earliest direct evidence for the existence of codified rules of war dates only from thirteenth century Spain and fourteenth century France." (209) This is well past the timeline in which the independent theory claims that the ransom culture became standard practice in the eleventh and twelfth century Anglo-Norman regnum. Friedman also takes Strickland directly to task: "[t]here are those, such as Strickland, who believe that ransom of captives was already the norm in the West in the mid-eleventh century." (210) Friedman does an excellent job of noting that at least one treaty in the West shows a potential presumption of "ransoming of captured knights as a norm," the practical results differed. (211)

    It is the practical versus theoretical approach that Friedman uses to contend that independent theory falls apart. Friedman cites the concern of Pope Urban II of the European prisoner culture prior to the Crusades, noting that "many captives were ... cast into foul prisons and ransomed for excessive prices, or tormented there ... and secretly put to death." (212) It is this disregard for captives that serves "as one of the wrongs [Pope] Urban II wanted to redress in calling for Crusade." (213) This argument is the same vein that Strickland makes concerning the Vikings while engaging in ransom, which was that it was not the Vikings' only option for prisoner treatment, nor was it the preferred option. (214) Freidman similarly argues that while ransom was an option in the West, it was not the preeminent result of post-conflict prisoner resolution. (215)

    The reverse, however, is true for the borrowed theory: it is readily apparent that ransom was well-developed in Western culture in the sources that Friedman cites. It was developed enough for treaties to include exact valuations of knights, such as the eleventh century treaty between Count William V of Aquitaine and Hugh of Lusignan, (216) and for Pope Urban III to recognize that there was such a thing as "excessive" ransoms, (217) which also means that there was a suggested value for ransoming and nobles were abusing it. Even Albert of Aachen may betray Friedman's theory, insofar as he mentions the sparing of enemy Muslims by the Crusaders could be seen as "avarice," (218) with avarice representing greed, greed from collecting ransoms.

    So, once again, who wins the battle? Well, both do. From the sources used for the independent theory, it is clear that since there was the development of a ransom culture in Normandy, the establishment of the valuation of knights prior to the Crusades is paramount in this development. Institutionalized ransom, however, did not truly begin in the Latin Kingdom until after the Battle of Hattin. As such through the examination of the institutionalized Muslim ransom culture, which included a sophisticated infrastructure and used mediators, it is apparent that the Crusaders may have borrowed elements when establishing their own institutionalized ransom structure, as seen with the establishment of the Trinitarian Order.

    There also appears to be a common, albeit highly speculative, connection between the pre-Crusades Anglo-Norman regnum and the Muslim East, that of the Byzantine Empire. For Normandy, the connection to the Byzantine Empire comes in the form of the Vikings. The Vikings had settled in a region in modern day Ukraine and Russia, (219) and these Vikings had extensive contacts with the Byzantines and Byzantine law via treaties. (220) The relationship between the two cultures advanced so much so that in 988 the Byzantine Emperor Basil II requested aid from Vladimir the Great, Russian Grand Prince of Kiev, which resulted in the creation of the Varangian Guard, one of the most interesting cross-cultural military orders. (221) The Varangian Guard was a permanent order made up of Rus and Vikings and which served as an imperial guard for the Byzantine Emperor. (222) It became practice for Vikings seeking to make a fortune for themselves to travel to Byzantium, serve in the Varangian Guard, and to return home with wealth and prestige. (223) The earliest western reference to the returning Vikings appears in the Annates Bertiniani, which Prudentius, who was Bishop of Troyes during the nineth century, wrote. (224) Prudentius wrote that in 839, the Holy Roman Emperor, Louis the Pious, received a team of envoys from the Byzantine Emperor, Theophilus and accompanied by a group of Rus (later determined to be Swedes), who were under the favor of Theophilus and who were attempting to return to Sweden. (225) Two centuries later, the Viking Harold Sigurdarson found himself in the service of the Varangian Guard for a period of time. (226) Harold Hardrada's notoriety is not only from his service for the Byzantines, but upon his return to Scandinavia and obtaining the Danish Crown, he eventually lead an invasion force into England and suffered defeat at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. (227) As such, Vikings not only had interactions with the...

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