Drawing upon Turkish and Spanish archives and a broad range of published scholarship, Hess presents an erudite reinterpretation of sixteenth-century Mediterranean history, supplementing and correcting Braudel’s celebrated overview and setting the stage for the very different paths thereafter taken by Mediterranean Islam and the West. Braudel’s emphasis on culturally neutral data, from demography to inflation, yielded underlying unities; Hess’ political and cultural approach expresses the overt differences and particularly how “the main theme of Mediterranean history during the sixteenth century was the cumulative divergence of its two civilizations” and “a new segregation.”
To tell a manageable story, Hess selects as microcosm one battle-front and linkage during the bloody struggle between Hapsburg and Ottoman empires, displaying a wealth of Maghribian detail from Morocco to Tunisia. After the wars, cultural interaction and diffusion in the Gibraltar zone was to shrink to a mere edge, as Spain defined itself against its previous pluralism and the Ottomans drifted into a retrograde, landbound congeries of conflicting groups held in balance by their xenophobic bureaucracy. Hess sees as crucial the revolutionary maritime technology (unassimilated by the Ottomans), the radically evolving social and cultural structure of each society, the role of gunpowder, the new priorities imposed on each government, and those political-military events disdained by Braudel but transcendentally significant to a Muslim.
Political detail is excellent and overdue although its flow becomes tedious in chapters 5 and 6. Especially good are chapter 7 on the Mudejar-Morisco predicament in a context very different from earlier Spanish pluralisms, chapter 8 on the abortive sociocultural renaissance of the Maghrib under the Ottoman political elite, and chapter 9 on the contrasting role of imagination and letters in the opposed empires. The bibliographical essay is solid.
As Turkish archives continue to yield up their secrets, late medieval background will doubtless continue to illumine many problems of modern Islam and the West. This is an impressive contribution: at once a regional frontier history, a synthesis of the sixteenth-century western Mediterranean wars, and an interpretative essay about the Hapsburg-Ottoman imperial struggle and its aftermath.