Divine Vengeance and Human Justice in The Wendish Crusade of 1147

Divine Vengeance and Human Justice in The Wendish Crusade of 1147

By Mihai Dragnea

Collegium Medievale, Vol.29 (2006)

Capture of the Wends, depicted in the 19th century by Wojciech Gerson

Abstract: “Crusading as an act of vengeance” is a new paradigm proposed by Susanna A. Throop. In this study I will focus on the question of whether the Wendish Crusade supports an “act of vengeance” paradigm. The study shows us a new understanding of how crusading was conceived as an act of vengeance in the context of the twelfth century. Through textual analysis of medieval sources it has been possible to clarify the course of the concept of divine vengeance, which often used human agents in its execution, as well as the idea of crusading as an act of vengeance.

In primary sources which emphasize the necessity of a Holy War against the Wends, the concept of vengeance was intimately connected with the ideas of human justice and divine punishment. Most of these sources are clerical writings which contain biblical allusions in order to justify their aims. This paper shows how the concept of divine vengeance was perceived as an expression of both secular and religious authority, embedded in a series of commonly understood emotional responses in medieval society, and also as a value system compatible with Christianity.

Introduction: Most of the sources for the first and Second Crusade contain references to divine vengeance. After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, the idea of crusading as vengeance spread among the clergy and laity. In a direct sense, what the Muslims experienced during the first Crusade was the just punishment of God, also known as “divine vengeance” (ultio Dei, ulturi, vindicata). Therefore, the inhumanity of the Muslims encouraged vengeance and war, rather than conversion.

This is why in the powerful rhetoric of the first Crusade, the seizure of Jerusalem by the Muslims had been avenged. The liberation of Jerusalem as being part of a divine retribution is expressed in a letter written by Pope Paschal II (1099–1118) to the Pisan consuls in 1100, where he praised the piety and devotion of the Pisan people and their achievements in the holy Land: “the Christian people … most strenuously avenged [Jerusalem] for the tyranny and yoke of the barbarians and, with God helping, restored those regions, sanctified by the blood and presence of Jesus Christ, to their former refinement and majesty with adornment and veneration”.

Click here to read this article from Collegium Medievale

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter!