AABS announces the award of a Book Publication Subvention to Arc Humanities Press for Ideology and Holy Landscape in the Baltic Crusades, by Gregory Leighton 

Jun 27, 2022

The AABS Board is pleased to announce that Arc Humanities Press has been awarded the AABS Book Publication Subvention for publishing “Ideology and Holy Landscape in the Baltic Crusades.” The book, authored by historian Gregory Leighton, examines how the military orders and the ideology of crusading gave rise to a new sacred landscape in the medieval Baltic region, the final frontier of Christian Europe.

©Gregory Leighton, 2022

Gregory Leighton earned his PhD in History (2018) from Cardiff University, where he studied the Teutonic Order and crusading in Prussia and Livonia. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of History at Nicholas Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland.

This book examines how the military orders and the ideology of crusading gave rise to a new sacred landscape in the medieval Baltic region, the final frontier of Christian Europe. Drawing on an extensive body of written and visual sources, together with international scholarship, the book discusses the paganism of the landscape in written sources pre-dating the crusades, in addition to the narrative, legal, and visual evidence of the crusade period. It draws out the key sacralising elements as expressed in those sources, which structure the definition of sacred landscape, particularly martyrdom, the manifestation of the sacred, and use of relics in battle. By analysing these aspects with Geographical Information Systems (GIS), a map of the Baltic campaigns emerges that provides a fresh approach to studying contemporary views of holy war in a region with no initial links to the loca sancta of Jerusalem or Europe.

The thematic organization of the study traces concepts of place and landscape over five chapters, gradually moving from the written communication of the landscape to its geographical analysis and concluding with a consideration of the visual depictions of this message. The results of this study contribute new findings to the scholarly field in many ways.

Figure 1: Tomb of St Meinhard, Riga Cathedral in Riga, Latvia (Photograph by author)

First, they shed new light on the role of place and landscape within the spirituality of the Teutonic Order and the self–image shared amongst crusaders and brothers in the Order. The propagation in the sources and visual evidence of a new sacral landscape in the Baltic region can be connected to understandings of place and landscape in the Baltic zone in the thirteenth and fourteenth century, and the book’s findings show how these ideas and concepts developed over the course of a century.  They also demonstrate the need for us to re–assess previous summaries of the Baltic crusades as “religiously glossed ethnic cleansing.” Indeed, the religious imagery of the texts, the visual culture of the regions, and the spatial analysis of this material demonstrates quite the opposite.  Often, the new sacral centres created in the Baltic were re–used or incorporated existing “pre–crusader” settlements, and connected to pivotal events in the region’s history, such as martyrdoms, miracles, or the presence of relics. Rather than resulting in obliteration and abandonment, this book’s findings provide a more complex and multi–faceted view of the missions and how they shaped contemporary world views. 

The book also contributes to the developing field of scholarly interest in the medieval Baltic by making available a wide body of materials concerned with the history of – and scholarship on –  the Baltic crusades. Its approach blends history, anthropology, and digital techniques, revealing how crusading shaped mental and visual perceptions of this frontier within the Teutonic Order, both amongst crusaders, and the local Christian population. It will serve historians and students of the Baltic region, the crusades, medieval warfare, and the military orders.

Figure 2: “Mary Conquers the Devil,” Arnau (late 14th century) in Rodniki, Kaliningrad oblast (former East Prussia) (Photograph © Bildarchiv Foto Marburg, reproduced with permission)

What is the AABS Book Publication Subvention?

The AABS awards its Book Publication Subvention of up to $5,000 for individually authored books, edited volumes, and multiple-authored books in English that make a substantial scholarly contribution to Baltic Studies. The applications must be submitted by publishers, not authors. Priority will be given to single author’s first monographs.

AABS awards two Book Publication Subventions each year. Applications may be submitted for review anytime, on a rolling basis.

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