Steven Isaac publishes chapter: “Medieval Terrorism”

Professor Steven Isaac has contributed a chapter, “Medieval Terrorism: the Seeds of Later Developments,” to a volume that has just appeared, The Routledge History of Terrorism, edited by Randall Law.  The promotional blurb from the publisher claims:

“Though the history of terrorism stretches back to the ancient world, today it is often understood as a recent RoutledgeTerrorismdevelopment. Comprehensive enough to serve as a survey for students or newcomers to the field, yet with enough depth to engage the specialist, The Routledge History of Terrorism is the first single-volume authoritative reference text to place terrorism firmly into its historical context.”

Isaac’s contribution surveys nearly the entirety of the Middle Ages, and the many instances of terrifying violence that did occur then.  At the same time, he takes a contrary point of view to his own assignment, arguing that terrorism (as the term is usually understood in contemporary parlance) was remarkably little in evidence.  Nonetheless, later paradigms were in the process of developing, not least of them being concepts of legitimate and illicit violence, including the idea of innocent victims.  Some medieval violence fits modern terrorism’s definition of being a “performative act,” meant to shock spectators, but in the absence of mass media, one has to reconsider the limits of drawing analogies between medieval violence and modern successors.  In the end, the chapter asks (admittedly without answering clearly):  when do war’s cruelties become outright atrocities?

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