Reviews

In his contribution dedicated to Denis Sinor, Jean Richard once more examines the question of the unsuccessful alliance between the Latin West and the Mongols of Persia at the end of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the fourteenth.  He chooses to address it by studying the failed (or half-failed) cooperation between the West and the Mongols around the year 1300, just after Khan Ghazan defeated the Egyptian Mamluks in the Homs region on December 22, 1299, asking the West for help in exchange for a return of Jerusalem to its former Frankish masters.  With his usual modesty, Jean Richard alludes to the numerous past contributions to the issue and, skipping his own major contributions, especially mentions Sylvia Schein’s reference study on the question.  While pretending that there is nothing new to add, Jean Richard still takes the facts of these years 1299-1303 under close scrutiny, examining how they were an attempt to implement that idea of military cooperation so central to crusade thinking in that time.

Jean Richard begins by reminding us that there was already a basis for cooperation, with projects of alliance and diplomatic exchanges going as far back as 1260.  Yet the Mongol attack on Syria in the winter 1299 was triggered by defections to Mongols in Mamluk Syria, and started without consultation with the Latins.  Khan Ghazan nevertheless kept his partners in Cyprus informed, even if his first letter was somewhat vague in its appeal for aid.  But some Frankish nobles landed in Syria, a few months later Cypriots raided the Syrian-Egyptian coast, and when, after retreating from Syria in February 1300, Khan Ghazan asked more seriously for help, Cypriot knights and Templar Knights tried to land, though Ghazan could not come and help them for real.  Europe had received notice of the events since spring 1300, and Jean Richard gives the detail of the embassies sent every year to Western courts by Ghazan till 1303 in order to prepare campaigns against the Mamluks.  Some wanted to take action, especially Aragon, the king of Naples, and Genoa.  Nevertheless all these attempts did not concretise, and France (bogged down in the Flanders) or England (bogged down in Scotland) had other preoccupations.

If one considers the amount of speaking about the Mongol alliance in the West, and the modesty of the results, one might dismiss the idea of a true collaboration and speak of a “non event” (to use Sylvia Schein’s expression who, in her above-mentioned article, focused on the spread of extravagant rumours in the West).  By focusing on military responses of the West (or attempted military responses) to the sudden and unexpected Mongol victory at Homs, Jean Richard emphasises the real desire for cooperation that existed, hindered by the length of communications in that time.  The contrast between projects and reality would then be the result of the inability of the West to mobilise for a real crusade in such a short delay, as Khan Ghazan expected its allies to do, and of a successful Mamluk policy consisting in eliminating all Frankish power in mainland Syria, whose aim was precisely to prevent any future landing and junction between Mongol and Frankish armies.  However the temporarily success of Ghazan in 1299 and the attempted joint action kept alive the idea of military cooperation in crusade thinking for the years to come after 1303.

Thomas Thanase, Paris-Sorbonne University
CER: I-3.1.B-180