Volume 3, Issue 1, 2015
Alexander Pierre Bronisch
On the Use and Definition of the Term “Holy War”
The Visigothic and Asturian-Leonese Examples
After decades of discussion, historians have not yet managed to come to a generally accepted definition of the term “holy war.” There are several points of view, which can be classified into five groups: 1. the understanding of “holy war” as a war in which religion has the function of a specific cause; 2. critics of this position who fail to provide their own concise definition of “holy war”; 3. those who see holy wars from the perspective of just war theory; 4. others who define “holy war” as a war fought in the service of the Papacy; and, finally, 5. all those who seem to assume that a consensus about the meaning of this term already exists. In this article, the author’s definition, elaborated in a monograph on the significance of war in medieval Spain, is briefly presented. The Iberian Visigothic and Asturian-Leonese examples demonstrate that the author’s definition is suitable for explaining contemporaries’ ideas about the significance of war within the then-existing cosmovision. The author shows that the Iberian circumstances seem to be quite similar to the almost-simultaneous Byzantine understanding of war. Accordingly, some scholars on Byzantine warfare come to more or less to the same conclusion as proposed in this article and have had to face the same objections of their fellow scholars.