Prietzel, Kriegsführung im Mittelalter. Handlungen, Erinnerungen, Bedeutungen
Annotation author: Wiedmaier, Helen
Book author: Prietzel, Malte

Malte Prietzel, Kriegsführung im Mittelalter. Handlungen, Erinnerungen, Bedeutungen, Paderborn 2006

Shortly after its publication, the book ‘Kriegsführung im Mittelalter. Handlungen, Erinnerungen, Bedeutungen‘ by Malte Prietzel became one of the standard works on medieval cultures of war. And not without good reason: the book covers numerous aspects of medieval warfare and highlights connections between various regions and eras. It comprises two separate parts which cover different time frames: ‘A: Im 9. bis 12. Jahrhundert’ (p. 27–‍236) and ‘B: Während des Hundertjährigen Krieges’ (p. 237–359). These two main chapters are further divided into sections with a special focus on pre-battle actions and aspects of the behaviour of warriors after the fight. The actions are grouped into different subcategories such as bragging before (p. 51–59) or burials after the fight (p. 129–‍150). Those aspects are of particular interest because many books are lacking details on the behaviour of the soldiers before or after a battle and focus solely on the battle itself.

Prietzel uses mostly narrative sources such as chronicles or annals and by means of those sources he explains not only how fighters acted but also why the authors of the sources described those actions in a certain way. Therefore, by combining military with cultural history, Prietzel demonstrates that one must be careful when analysing medieval sources. For example, he points out that banners could be used either as signals before or during the fighting (e.g. to mark the beginning of the battle or to give orders for the next attack) or symbols of victory, and that medieval authors made use of a variety of meanings in their documents (p. 194–236). In addition, he focuses on the importance of war for society in general and – in greater detail – for the aristocratic fighters. Some might criticise that Prietzel is not giving enough thought to foot soldiers, but – as he points out – there are very few sources about this specific group. The reason is simple: the authors of the chronicles wrote for an aristocratic audience that was interested in stories about their own life and experiences only rather than those of common people.

Prietzel pays more attention to the patterns of narration than to the events and operational progress which seems as most of the authors writing about war during the early and High Middle Ages did not (themselves) take part in military actions. Therefore, they did not provide a factual account of the events but rather a presentation of their own ideal of warfare and chivalry. With this background information in mind, Prietzel’s choice of focus can be considered reasonable and helps the reader to understand the conceptual world of the medieval people.

This approach makes the book a very valuable source not only for researchers working solely on warfare but also for those using narratological methods. However, for military historians, the lack of chapters about the fighting itself represents a significant shortcoming. Maybe a different choice of the book title would have created less false expectations, because ‘Kriegsführung im Mittelalter’ seems to fall in line with traditional studies on military history and one does not expect it to deal with cultures of war instead. Also, Prietzel should have made use of a wider variety of sources, such as archaeological findings, administrative writings, ‘private’ letters, laws, or treaties. Those would have helped (to) widen the perspective through taking into account a spectrum of different findings. There is a great number of such documents available for the Late Middle Ages could have made the book more comprehensive and balanced, since it focusses mainly on the Early and High Middle Ages,  whereas the chapters on the Late Middle Ages are somewhat short in comparison. Nevertheless, it is an impressive work, which helps the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the cultures of war in medieval times.

For the GRK it is not only helpful for those working with medieval sources but also for those working on cultures of war or narratology. This is because Prietzel describes how authors made use of different approaches to put a spotlight on different groups and how they played with (different) meanings to give certain groups credit for winning or losing a battle. On top of that, it shows how to compare different regions, but also how difficult it is to include all important details while choosing Prietzel’s approach.