Cristea and Pilat, The Ottoman Threat and Crusading on the Eastern Border of Christendom during the 15th Century
Annotation author: Chiriluş, Oana-Andreea
Book author: Cristea, Ovidiu and Pilat, Liviu

Ovidiu Cristea, Liviu Pilat, The Ottoman Threat and Crusading on the Eastern Border of Christendom during the 15th Century (East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 450-1450 48), Leiden 2018

The vast majority of the secondary literature on the later crusades is dominated by a Western perspective, while the actors from the eastern part of the continent are discussed in terms of alliances with the Western powers and their role as antemurale christianitatis. The Romanian scholars Liviu Pilat and Ovidiu Cristea set out to fix this deficiency by conducting an exhaustive diplomatic and political narrative focused on the lower Danube and Black Sea areas. Their new angle of investigation is what makes The Ottoman Threat and Crusading on the Eastern Border of Christendom during the 15th Century a fresh volume that makes the reader realise that the areas under consideration were also a theatre of crusading.

This volume is part of the series East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, edited by Florin Curta, a Romanian-born American medievalist, professor of Medieval History and Archaeology at the University of Florida, and Dušan Zupka, a Slovakian assistant professor at the Department of General History at the Comenius University in Bratislava. The aim of this collection is to popularize the history of Central and Eastern Europe. The authors of this book are Liviu Pilat, a professor of Medieval History at “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University of Iași who published various works on Stephan the Great of Moldavia, and Ovidiu Cristea, a senior researcher at the Institute of History “Nicolae Iorga”, who is well known for his contribution to the study of the presence of Venetians in the Black Sea basin.

The approach to the topic is chronological, starting from 1204 with the Forth Crusade and ending with the general peace between the Sultan and Christendom concluded at Buda in 1503. The first two chapters of the volume discuss the collision between the political and economic interests of Hungary, Poland, Venice, Genoa and the Porte in the North-Western Pontic area. Presenting the political realities with all their religious and economic implications in the region in detail, the authors explain how it was possible for the Ottomans to advance into Europe and take control over the trade in the Black Sea.

The following two chapters are centred on the Union of Florence and its implications on a political level, as well as 15th century crusading policies. One of the main arguments is that in order for the plans of the anti-Ottoman crusade to be viable it was absolutely necessary that the kingdoms of Poland and Hungary be in good relations.

The consolidation of Ottoman power in the Black Sea and the Porte’s control over the strategic strongholds of Kilia and Akkerman make the subject of the last couple of chapters. The Ottoman Empire’s control of the two cities causes the pressure on the neighbouring states to increase. In this context, the Pope’s call for a crusade became interesting for local rulers who saw the opportunity to use these enterprises to achieve their own political agenda. Pilat and Cristea emphasize that the pragmatism of the local rulers and the crusading ideology came into conflict. The Orthodox states viewed the crusades as a form of Christian solidarity and a way for them to obtain support from the Pope and the Western states, both financially and military. The obvious different understanding of the idea of crusade by the Catholic West and the Orthodox East contributed to the consolidation of Ottoman power in the Pontic area.

Processing an impressive volume of bibliography in several languages (Romanian, Hungarian, Polish, French, English, Italian), the authors stand out by overcoming the biased or even contradictory interpretations of the subject of the later crusades in the national historiography of Central-Eastern Europe. However, the greatest merit of this work may also be its flaw. The huge amount of information gathered in the pages of the volume makes it difficult to read. Also, at times, the faulty translation makes the style, already quite arid, even harder to digest. Nevertheless, the authors have the great merit to highlight lesser-known aspects of the crusades in Eastern Europe and the complex relationship between the crusade as a common ideal and a form of Christian solidarity, and the diverse and often divergent interests of the states in the area.

Oana Chiriluș