Book Review: John of Salisbury: Military Authority of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance


by John Hosler

Leiden & Boston: E. J. Brill, 2013. Pp. xii, 228. Appends., notes, biblio., index. $133.00. ISBN: 900422663X

A Forgotten Medieval Military Thinker

Prof. Hosler (Morgan State) argues that John of Salisbury has been seriously overlooked by military historians, making for a serious “lacuna” in scholarship on medieval warfare.  The sometime secretary to Thomas Becket and later the Bishop of Chartres, John of Salisbury (c. 1115-1180) was a scholar of unusual attainments who arguably had enduring influence on the evolution of Western intellectual life.

Although John certainly never served in arms nor actually saw a battle, his letters and his formal works in political science and history, including a well-regarded treatment of the Second Crusade, evidence a familiarity with the ancient classics as well as with the practice of his own times, generally by commenting on “exempla” or anecdotes.  This was the common practice of most ancient works on military theory, such as Aelian and Frontinus, commentaries that were read by noblemen and helped educate them as soldiers.  

Hosler is no means uncritical of John’s limitations.  He opens by discussing the military vocabulary of the times, an idea that more historians should adopt, given changes in the meaning of many seemingly familiar words or phrases over the ages.  Hosler then examines John’s use of exempla in discussing recruiting and training of soldiers, organization and logistics, the conduct of operations, and what might be termed his “philosophy” of war. 

A volume in the Brill series “History of Warfare,” John of Salisbury is an important work for anyone interested in warfare in Medieval times or in the evolution of the literature of war.

Note: John of Salisbury is also available as an e-book, ISBN 978-9-0042-5147-2

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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