Hans-Werner Goetz
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‘Holy wars’? ‘Religious wars’?
The perception of religious motives of warfare against non-Christian enemies in ninth-century chronicles
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Within the frame of the concept of militarisation during the early Middle Ages, this chapter is focused on the hardly deniable (ideological) Christianisation of warfare by inquiring into the question of whether early medieval wars were perceived as ‘religious’ or ‘holy’ wars (as is often assumed, but more often rejected by modern research for the times before the Crusades). When we define ‘religious war’ as a war not only accompanied by religious actions or/and interpreted in theological terms – which we find throughout the period equally in wars between Christians – but in addition waged for religious motives (and thus only possible for wars against non-Christian enemies), chroniclers of the ninth century do indeed testify to such motives, although rather rarely, as two case studies on the defence of the Viking attacks in the Frankish kingdoms and the very early ‘reconquista’ in the Asturian chronicles demonstrate. In most cases, the religious description and interpretation of warfare against non-Christians does not differ from intra-Christian wars. Every war is religiously permeated, whereas ‘holy war’ is an artificial modern characterisation.

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