Post-classical history

Passagium Particulare

A term that came to be applied to a preliminary crusade or scaled-down crusading venture in the later Middle Ages.

To a certain extent, the passagium particulare (particular passage) existed in fact before it existed in name. As distinct from the well-known examples of the large-scale, international crusading expedition (Lat. passagium generale), the twelfth- and thirteenth-century precursors of the passagium particulare were relatively small-scale crusading ventures, perhaps a single expedition in a major crusade, but in any case usually associated with an individual noble from a specific region. The ineffectual crusades of Thibaud of Champagne and Richard of Cornwall (1239-1241) would be good thirteenth-century examples.

It was probably in the period immediately following the Second Council of Lyons (1274) and before the fall of Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) to the Mamlûks (1291) that the idea of a passagium particulare began to take shape. It was certainly named and conceptualized before the Crusade of 1309. Its coming marked a turning point in crusade planning, effectively indicating that the classic period of crusading was drawing to a close, when previous crusading failure indicated that new thinking was needed. In most respects the passagium particulare was a typical crusade, preached and authorized by the papacy and granted the usual plenary indulgence, but it had significant characteristics of its own. It was sometimes thought of as a primum passagium (first passage), that is, the first, or preliminary, phase of an intended two-stage operation, which the passagium generale was supposed to complete; or as a passagium parvum (small passage), a limited, small-scale crusade.

Whatever its label, its underlying strategy had much to commend it. Its limited aims and objectives made its success seem achievable. Although any crusade was costly, the more modest passagium particulare, with its smaller complement of crusaders, was definitely less costly to mount than the old-style passagium generale. Furthermore, a single, designated leader would eliminate damaging conflicts over field command. Then, too, the campaign could be short and well-targeted, with clearly understood objectives. Strategically, it was perfect for a sea raid or quick naval operation to enforce an economic blockade in the eastern Mediterranean.

It is no surprise that the coming of the passagium particulare coincided with the professionalization of the crusades and the increasing use of mercenary troops. Both indicate that practicality, not enthusiasm, had the upper hand.

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