Post-classical history

Robert of Rheims

Author of the Historia Iherosolimitana, a Latin history of the First Crusade (1096-1099).

According to the apology (Lat. sermo apologeticus) Robert placed at the beginning of the work, he attended the Council of Clermont (November 1095) and wrote his Historia while a monk at the Benedictine abbey of St. Remi in Rheims. It is unlikely that he can be identified with a former abbot of St. Remi (d. 1122), who was expelled in 1096 or 1097 and went on the First Crusade himself.

No consensus has been reached about the Historia’s date of composition—whether it was finished by 1107 or written between 1110 and 1118—or its relationship to other sources. However, the nine books of the Historia follow the anonymous Gesta Francorum in their account of the years 1095-1099, framed by descriptions of Jerusalem and concentrating on the heroic fighting in Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey): the Council of Clermont (with a version of Pope Urban II’s famous speech) and the story of Peter the Hermit (book 1); the march of the various contingents to Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey) and their disputes with the Byzantine emperor (book 2); the progression of the crusade from Constantinople to Antioch (book 3); the siege of Antioch (books 4-7); minor campaigns of the crusaders and tensions among them (book 8); and the capture of Jerusalem, the election of Godfrey of Bouillon, and the battle of Ascalon (book 9).

Robert gives a polished account with rhythmical and rhymed sentences and refined speeches; he intersperses verses to introduce and summarize chapters and, like other prosimetrical historians of the First Crusade (Fulcher of Chartres, Guibert of Nogent, Radulph of Caen), inserts poems, mostly to illustrate fighting emotively. The chronicle betrays Robert’s special interest in topography, evident in his descriptions of Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Antioch. Naturally, Robert depicts the heroism of the crusaders and emphatically praises the deeds of Bohemund of Taranto and Godfrey of Bouillon, but above all, he explains the success of the First Crusade as a manifestation of God’s will and power: “Hoc enim non fuit humanum opus, sed divinum” (This was not a human enterprise, but a divine one [“Robert Monachi historia Iherosolimitana,” 3: 723]).

Robert’s narrative soon became the most popular and the most frequently copied history of the First Crusade, surviving in over 100 manuscripts. It was first printed in 1472. The editors of theRecueil des Historiens des Croisades worked from twenty-two manuscripts but relied especially on a twelfth-century manuscript now in the Bibliothèque nationale de France [MS Paris, Bibliothèquenationale de France, lat.5129]. Manuscripts of the Historia are often accompanied by a letter of the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos to Count Robert I of Flanders asking for military aid.

At least three Latin versifications derived from the Historia. Two originated in Germany: Metellus of Tegernsee’s Expeditio Ierosolimitana (1146/1165) and Gunther’s Solimarius (fragment of uncertain date; before 1186); the third is the fragmentary Solymis by the Italian Giovanni Maria Cat- taneo (d. 1529/1530). In the later Middle Ages the Historia achieved even greater influence through translations into French, Italian, and, above all, German (five translations in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries), while the growing threats from the Turks were reflected in Latin prose redactions or adaptations: Thomas Ebendorfer’s De duobus pas- sagiis Christianorum principum on the First and the Third Crusades (written 1454-1456) probably remained largely unknown, in a single manuscript, but the Historiarum decades of Flavio Biondo (d. 1463) became the standard account of the First Crusade, particularly of Urban’s speech at Clermont, until the end of the sixteenth century.

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