Religious Warfare in the Mediterranean


War propaganda circulated across the Mediterranean in the early modern period, and in their descriptions of battle and campaigns authors routinely emphasized religious motives and symbolism over any other factors in the making of the conflict and its eventual resolution. A good example is the Relation of the Voyage and Taking of the city of Bona in Barbary (1609), written to celebrate one of the most successful exploits of the knights of Santo Stefano, a military order founded by the Medici Grand-Dukes to defend the Tyrhennian coastline and legitimize the ruling family of Tuscany through a continuation of the medieval crusading ideal.

The Relation describes the knights as led by religious portents, including the miraculous appearance of a cross on a map of the Mediterranean, and driven by a desire to recapture the city (now known as Annaba) that had once been the episcopal see of St. Augustine, in order to restore honor to his relics. They captured the city in six hours, ‘without surprise or betrayal’, granting what the author of the pamphlet emphasized was an honorable victory.

Many of the descriptions of combat are redolent with symbolism that emphasized the clash between the two monotheisms- the mosque as the highest point in the city, which had to be taken in order to ensure the victory, and the rapid return of the victorious fleet to Italy, where they ordered a mass of thanksgiving for their divinely inspired triumph.

For more, see the copy of the Relation (in Italian), on Google Books.

One thought on “Religious Warfare in the Mediterranean

  1. This looks like a fascinating pamphlet, especially because of the symbolism of the cross on the map of the Mediterranean. War and peace pamphlets always seem to say a lot about (national) identity and I am just wondering what is the specific function of this text. Can we only identify a religious zeal to conquer islamic territories and, by doing so, convert to them Christianity? Or does this pamphlet ‘create’ a cultural identity by juxtaposing two religious groups, aided by symbolism that emphasizes this clash? According to psychoanalytical thinkers like Freud, Kristeva and, to some extent, Levinas, individuality can only be defined in contrast or comparison with strangers (Visker, Lof der zichtbaarheid: een inleiding in de hedendaagse wijsbegeerte, 2007, 81-99). And to quote the historian Robert Stein: “[I]t is especially in confrontations with strangers that we are forced to define ourselves.” (Stein and Pollman, Networks, Regions and Nations, 2010, 6). In other words, do we get to see what being a Christian really means, in contrast to being a Muslim? is there a form of self-reflection in this crusade-like account?
    In short, is this pamphlet a straightforward religious account of the capture of Bona or can we detect a more specific way in which identity is defined?

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